Milk labeling divides dairy industry

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Related tags: Milk

A campaign launched this month by the Center for Global Food Issues
(CGFI) warning consumers against claims made on milk cartons has
received short shrift from the organic industry, reports
Philippa Nuttall.

The CGFI​ believes that, as its internet blog says Milk is Milk​. In other words, statements that milk is hormone or pesticide free are false, Alex Avery, CGFI's director of research and education, told FoodNavigatorUSA.com​.

He and the rest of the organization think that dairies and food companies making such claims are using false advertising to increase sales of their products. Avery calls it 'predatory labelling'​, while the organic dairies believe their milk is different from other products on the market and consumers should be aware of this.

And, there is obviously some consumer interest in the issue as Avery notes that the site has had 20,000 visitors since it was launched a few months ago. "Since the blog went online on 7 January, we've had nearly 3,000 visits in the first week from all over the world, inlcuding Poland, Japan, Italy, Israel, Iran, Trinidad/Tobago and Singapore according to Alexa​ ranking service,"​ said Avery.

"We've also had a 100 percent increase in traffic since the launch of the blog portion of the site."

The CGFI wants to get the message out there that 'milk is milk'​. "The simple truth is there really is no difference,"​ the organization quotes Dr Ruth Kava, director of nutrition at the American Council on Science and Health, on its website.

In response to the claim that milk is hormone-free, Kava and the CGFI state: "All milk produced by cows contains hormones as part of the normal biology of reproduction and lactation. There is no such thing as hormone-free milk."

They are just as damning about the claim of 'No Pesticides'​, noting that: "There are no pesticides added to any milk or dairy products"​.

This stance is backed up to a large extent by the FDA, which has banned the use of claims such as 'No Hormones' or 'Hormone Free'​ on milk cartons, again because all milk contains naturally occurring hormones.

Organic Valley, one of the companies cited on the Milk is Milk website as making false claims, is outraged by CGFI's stance and the apparent "double-speak"​ employed by the organization.

"We are not talking about natural hormones, but hormones that are added to the milk,"​ Theresa Marquez, the chief marketing executive at Organic Valley, told FoodNavigatorUSA.com​. "We produce our milk without hormones."

Horizon Organic too agrees that "growth hormones naturally occur in all milk, since hormones are present when cows lactate."​ However, the company noted its unease about conventional dairy cows being injected with the genetically engineered growth hormone BGH, known as rBGH and rBST, to increase milk production by as much as 15 percent.

"The FDA approved the drug in 1993, but some are concerned about its safety on both human and animal health. In fact, several countries in Europe as well as Canada, Australia and Japan have banned the use of these hormones,"​ said the company.

It said that it is committed to providing consumers with certified organic foods produced without the use of antibiotics, added growth hormones or dangerous pesticides and that it labels its products with this information "so all consumers can make educated choices about the food they buy"​.

CFGI has recently launched its website because it believes that consumers are becoming more confused by what is written on milk labels. Marquez agrees that consumers are confused by what goes into their foods, but thinks they have the right to know if their milk is "produced without hormones"​, for example. For her, though, the problem is not new.

"We have been dealing with this for years and will continue to tell our story in the most ethical way possible,"​ she concluded.

She thinks that US consumers are becoming more aware of food and the issues surrounding its ingredients and sources. This is born out by recent polls suggesting that purchases of organic foods have increased in recent years.

"Sales of organic food have outpaced those of traditional grocery products due to consumer perceptions that organic food is better for them,"​ said a report published at the end of last year by Euromonitor.The survey noted that the organic food market in the US grew by 20.4 percent in 2003 to be worth around $10.4 billion; sales are expected to reach $16.1 million in 2008.

"Greater consumer demand for organic food has stemmed from a variety of factors, though at core the prevalent issues remain healthier eating, food safety and the ongoing genetically modified organism (GMO) debate,"​ it stated.

However, in terms of overall milk sales in the States, organic milk is still very much in the minority, making up 2.6-3.2 percent of sales.

Related topics: Regulation

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