OH Governor urged to rescind rule on milk labels
March 11, 2007
Coalition Press Conference Held March 11; Ohio Dairy Labeling Advisory Committee Hearing to be Held March 12
More than 70 dairy farmers, consumer, farm and agricultural, public health, animal protection and environmental organizations, food processors and retailers today wrote to Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, urging him to rescind an emergency rule regarding the regulation on dairy labeling in Ohio that would restrict labels on milk from cows not treated with Monsanto’s synthetic recombinant bovine growth hormone (known as “rbST” or “rbGH”). A copy of the letter can be found here: http://www.consumersunion.org/pub/core_food_safety/005484.html
The rule, which will be discussed at an Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) hearing at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, March 12, is not sufficiently pro-consumer, restricts free speech rights of dairies and processors, and interferes with the smooth functioning of free markets and interstate commerce. The coalition held a press conference today at the Ohio Statehouse, where farmers, consumer groups, and activists in dairy cow costumes strongly urged the governor to preserve their right to know how their milk has been produced.
“The ODA’s emergency regulation is already infringing on commercial free speech, and we know of instances where dairies have already given up trying to comply with these labeling regulations and instead say nothing about being rbGH-free” said Carol Goland, Executive Director of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA). “If the emergency rule remains unchanged, it will negatively impact Ohioans’ ability to make an informed decision about the dairy products they buy. It interferes with farmers and dairies’ rights to free speech, and with consumer right-to-know. In this era of increased concern about what’s in our food and how it is produced, Ohio should be making more information available, not less.”
Last month, the ODA instituted an emergency order to restrict the use of product labeling claims denoting that no milk from cows treated with synthetic hormones had been used in dairy products. Under the rule, a dairy label may contain a production claim that “this milk is from cows not supplemented with rbST” as long as it meets two conditions: The claim has to be verifiable based on documents such as producer-signed affidavits, farm weight tickets and processing-plant audit trails, and the label panel must also include a contextual statement such as, “The FDA has determined that no significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rbST-treated and non-rbST-treated cows.” The rule specifies that this contextual statement must be contiguous to the production claim and identical to it in size and font style.
The ODA’s rule exceeds U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidance which explicitly said that such a contextual statement is not required. In a July 27, 1994 letter to the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets, FDA stated “the bottom line is that a contextual statement is not required, that in many instances a statement like ‘from cows not treated with rbST’ would not be misleading, and in no instance is the specific statement ‘No significant difference . . .’ required by FDA.” In addition, no other government agency, state or federal, requires such a contextual statement to be in the same font, style, case, size and color as the main label claim.
Notably, such a detailed requirement will interfere with interstate commerce since adjoining states may have different requirements. For example, Pennsylvania allows the contextual statement (also called a “disclaimer”) to be one-half the size of the main label claim. Thus, a label that is legal in Pennsylvania could be illegal in Ohio and could mean that that product would not be marketed in Ohio.
“It’s impossible to comply with this labeling requirement,” said Ohio dairy farmer John Rahm, who owns Daisy Lane Farm. “I ship directly to a bottler who hasn’t implemented the requirement because he ships to three states that allow truthful labeling and the cost to comply is simply prohibitive.”
The coalition also objects to language in the regulation which states that all claims about the composition of milk are false and misleading. “Certain claims, such as ‘no hormones,’ or ‘hormone-free’ are misleading as all milk contains hormones, or bGH. But it is not misleading to say milk from cows not treated with rbGH is ‘rbGH-free,’ “ said Dr. Michael Hansen, senior scientist at Consumers Union, non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports. “Since rbGH is not identical to naturally-produced bGH and is not found naturally in milk, milk from cows not treated with rbGH is by definition rbGH-free.”
The coalition urges Stickland to rescind the emergency rule and issue a final rule that drops the requirement for the disclaimer and permits the use of the claims “rbGH-free” or “rbST-free.” If the ODA decides that the disclaimer must remain, the coalition urges it to drop the detailed requirements for the font, size, color and location.
Recently, due to intense consumer pressure in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Indiana, and Kansas, these states have held off from introducing or have dismissed rules to ban or limit milk hormone labeling. Similar rules are under consideration in Utah and Missouri.
The following organizations signed onto the letter:
Ben & Jerry’s; Beyond Pesticides; BioVision 2020; Bon Appetit Management Co.; Blue Rock Station; Boulder Ice Cream; The Campaign; Center for Corporate Policy; Center for Food Safety; Center for Media and Democracy; Citizens for Health; Clintonville Farmers Market; Community Food Initiatives; Consumer Federation of America; Center for Environmental Health; Cornucopia Institute; Countryside Conservancy; CROPP Co-op/Organic Valley; Endangered Habitats League; Family Farm Defenders; Farm Sanctuary; Farmer-to-Farmer Campaign on Genetic Engineering; Florida Organic Growers and Consumers; Food and Water Watch; Good Earth Natural Foods; Government Accountability Project; Hahn Natural Foods; Healthcare Without Harm; Horizon Dairy; Humane Farming Association; Innovative Farmers of Ohio; Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy; Institute for Justice; Institute for Responsible Technology; Kirschenmann Family Farms; Local Matters; Mississippi Livestock Markets Association; MOON Cooperative Services; National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture; National Family Farm Coalition; National Farmers Union; Natural Resources Defense Council; Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance; Northeast Organic Farming Association; Northstar Café, Columbus, OH; Northwood Farms; Ohio Citizen Action; Ohio Conference on Fair Trade; Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association; Ohio Environmental Council; Ohio Farmers Union; Ohio Public Interest Research Group (PIRG); Oneota Community Co-op; Oregon Ice Cream Company; Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility; Organic Consumers Association; Organic Farming Research Foundation; Peacework Farm; Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture (PASA); Radiance Dairy; Reclaim Democracy; Rodale Institute; Science and Environmental Health Network; Stonyfield Farm, Inc.; Straus Family Creamery; Ohio Sierra Club; Union of Concerned Scientists; Western Sustainable Agriculture Working Group; White Dog Community Enterprises; Whole Foods Market; Willow Creek Farm; Wright Way Dairy.
NOTE: Consumers Union, non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports, sent a similar letter to Governor Strickland on March 11, 2008.
Naomi Starkman, CU, 917.539.3924
John Bianchi, Goodman Media, 212.576.2700