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States consider restricting dairy absence claims

By Laura Crowley , 27-Feb-2008

A proposal by the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food to prohibit dairy companies declaring their products as free from a growth hormone has angered industry.

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) said the proposal, which would prevent milk labels carrying claims it is free from recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), would inhibit consumer choice.

 

 

 

"This rule prevents organic dairy farmers and processors from truthfully communicating with retailers and consumers regarding federally regulated organic production practices," said Clark Driftmier, senior vice president of Aurora Organic Dairy at a public hearing.

 

 

 

"It also prevents Utah consumers from exercising full and free choice in determining which products they wish to purchase."

 

 

Monsanto growth hormone

 

 

 

RBGH, also referred to as recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST), is a synthetic variant of the naturally occurring hormone in the pituitary gland of cattle, which can be injected into a cow to increase milk production.

 

 

 

A growing number of processors and retailers are seeking to add a no-rBST label in response to consumer demands for natural foods free from additives and other artificial added extras.

 

 

 

Monsanto's rBGH is not permitted for use in the EU, but has been available in the US since gaining FDA approval in 1994.

 

 

 

The hormone, which Monsanto terms a "supplement", is still widely used around the US though. According to the firm's estimates, about one third of the nation's dairy cattle are given rBGH.

 

 

 

Monsanto has previously claimed that firms labeling products rBST free are misleading consumers into thinking they are superior to those from cows treated with the hormone.

 

 

 

It appealed to the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drink Administration (FDA) to have a ban placed on putting claims of its absence on milk labels. They however refused, and so Monsanto has turned its attentions to state governments, according to the OTA.

 

 

 

State regulations

 

 

 

Under the Organic Foods Production Act and the national organic rule, animals on an organic farm must be produced without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones.

 

 

 

The National Organic Program administered by the USDA regulates labeling claims. State regulation of labeling on organic products is prohibited unless approved by the US Secretary of Agriculture.

 

 

 

Driftmier said: "Clearly, the Utah Department of Agriculture wants consumers to be informed how organic products are produced and what makes organic production different.

 

 

"There could develop a confusing patchwork of different rules from state to state, making it costly and inefficient to ship products to retailers and US consumers," he added , recommending the rule not be adopted.

 

 

 

Last month, a similar bill on organic milk labeling up for consideration in the Indiana House of Representatives and came under criticism organizations and producers claiming it would prevent informed consumer choice if passed.

 

 

 

At the same time, Pennsylvania decided against enforcing the ban on labeling organic milk using the absence claims. The state's proposal would have prevented dairy companies saying their products were free from antibiotics and pesticides as well as rBGH.

 

 

 

The same month, coffee retailer Starbucks said it had removed all rBGH from its US network of stores.

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