Groups ask OH Governor to rescind the emergency rule on dairy labeling

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July 20, 2009
Governor Ted Strickland
Governor’s Office
Riffe Center, 30th Flr.
77 South High St.
Columbus, OH 43215-6108
Dear Governor Strickland,
We, the undersigned consumers, dairy farmers, farm and agricultural organizations, public health, environmental groups, ethical investors, food processors and retailers are writing to ask you to rescind the emergency rule on dairy labeling in Ohio, approved in May 2008, that would restrict labels that refer to milk that comes from cows not treated with a synthetic bovine growth hormone (known as rbGH). Although a court ruled in favor of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, in a lawsuit brought by the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and the Organic Trade Association (OTA), both IDFA and OTA are appealing that decision. In addition, similar legislation/regulations, which were being considered in other states, have all failed. We feel that the Ohio rule is not sufficiently pro-consumer, restricts free speech rights of dairies and processors and interferes with the smooth functioning of free markets. Defending it against a court appeal, in the present economic climate, is a waste of scarce governmental resources.
We strongly object to a number of sections in the rule.
We object to Section C, which states that all claims about the composition of milk are false and misleading. We agree that certain claims, e.g. “no hormones,” or “hormone-free” are misleading as all milk contains hormones. But it is not misleading to say milk from cows not treated with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rbGH) is “rbGH-free.” RbGH is not identical to the naturally produced bGH but differs by one amino acid . Furthermore, research in Europe has clearly shown that antibodies can distinguish between Elanco’s rbGH product and naturally produced bGH. Thus, since rbGH is a synthetic molecule that does not occur in nature, if a cow has not been treated with rbGH then it’s impossible for the milk of that cow to contain rbGH. By definition, such milk is “rbGH-free.” The claim “from cows not treated with rbGH” is permitted in this rule because it is not false and misleading. It logically follows that the claims “rbGH-free” or “rbST-free” cannot be false and misleading and so should be allowed as well. Prohibiting farmers, dairies and processors from making the truthful label claim “rbGH-free” interferes with their free speech rights under the first Amendment.
Consumers believe such labels are appropriate. In October, 2008, the Consumer Reports National Research Center polled over 1,000 people nationwide on various food labeling issues; some 93 percent agreed that “dairies that produce milk and milk products without artificial growth hormones should be allowed to label their products as being free of these hormones.” In addition, some 57 percent of Americans were willing to pay more for milk and milk products produced without artificial growth hormones. These results clearly show that the vast majority of consumers want to know whether the milk they buy contains artificial growth hormones such as rbGH. Consumers want to know this information because of unanswered questions about the safety of milk from rbGH-treated cows, and adverse effects on the safety of the animal including increases in mastitis, reproductive effects, and foot problems.
Click on the link for the full letter (PDF format): http://www.consumersunion.org/pdf/Group-OH-Dairy-Ltr.pdf