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Public Outcry Keeps Hormone Milk Labels in PA

Posted by Jane Akre
Saturday, January 19, 2008 1:53 AM EST
Category: Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: Toxic Substances, Defective Products

 

PA's Govenor reversed a state ban on artificial milk hormone labels after a public outcry.

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At a time when consumers can look at labels to find whether their food has less salt, is Kosher or trans-fat-free, the Pennsylvania Agriculture Department thought, when it came to labels on dairy products, less was more. 

In October, Pennsylvania became the first state to ban the practice of labeling milk as free from Monsanto’s artificial growth hormone rBST also known as rbGH (synthetic or recombinant bovine growth hormone).

The labels were too confusing since milk already has naturally occurring hormones and it might be difficult to verify whether “coming from cows not treated with rBST” was actually true according to the state agriculture secretary, Dennis Wolff who issued notice of the ban.

But on the eve of the February 1 deadline for label changes, a bombardment of consumer emails, letters and calls into Governor Edward Rendell's office convinced him to intervene and reverse the labeling prohibition.

In a statement Thursday, the governor said, “The public has a right to complete information about how the milk they buy is produced.”

Michael Hansen, Ph.D, a senior scientist with Consumers Union, one of the groups involved announced, “This is a victory for free speech, free markets, sustainable farming, and the consumer’s right to know.  Consumers increasingly want to know more about how their food is produced, and particularly whether it is produced in natural and sustainable manner.”

Rick North of Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility tells IB News, “Make no mistake – with thousands of messages of protest, plus the sign-on letter of over 60 organizations protesting the ban, and, of course, the threat of a lawsuit, this caught them completely by surprise, they had no idea this would generate a very significant consumer response.”

Litigation could have involved charges of infringement on commercial free speech.

Why target Pennsylvania farmers?  “We were almost rbst free before the labeling ban,” Brian Snyder tells IB News about dairy industry in his state, “and the numbers were dwindling.” 

Snyder is the executive director of a organized group of 4,000, half of whom are dairy farmers called Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA).

While the average dairy farm in Pennsylvania is 67 cows, the trend nationally has been toward larger corporate mega-farms that milk thousands of cows in a day.

The difference is a philosophical one - local, seasonally grown food without added chemicals and hormones. “Small farms are an impediment to the advancement of the industry,” Snyder says.

“If you can’t put on labels, it puts small farmers out of business.”

Consumers might be wondering why the push away from labels when the national trend is to give more information.

Beginning this year shoppers will find it easier to make selections of food based on upgraded nutrition labels called the Overall Nutritional Quality Index (ONQI).     

Rick North of PSR says, “This isn’t about protecting consumers. This is about protecting Monsanto’s dwindling profits.”

While Monsanto won’t release sales figures, it once claimed one-third of the nation’s dairy cows were injected with the drug hormone commercially called Posilac.

That number is now estimated to be closer to 17 percent according to Consumers Union. 

Nationwide consumers are rejecting dairy from cows injected with artificial growth hormones.

DATAMONITOR, which tracks supermarket sales, has reported that "growth in organic milk is largely driven by continued use of hormones such as rbGH and antibiotics in the conventional dairy industry."

Organic dairy products, which don't allow rbGH, have soared to double digit profits. That in turn has grocers such as Kroger, Publix, Safeway and soon Wal-Mart following the money trail hoping to capture some of the market that Organic Valley and Horizon have taken away.

By mid-year Kraft will offer an rBGH/rBST-free cheese to offer to consumers as a “premium brand.”

The largest U.S. Dairy company, Dean Foods Co., now offers a line of artificial hormone free products and last year Starbucks Corp. banned the use of rBST/rbGH from its nearly 6,793 company owned stores. Chipolte Mexican Grille Inc., a McDonald’s spin-off has also banned rBSt/rbGH.

rbGH was declared safe and approved by the FDA for use by the nation’s dairy farmers in late 1993 to produce more milk.  The hormone is replicated by bacteria and is genetically engineered in a lab to mimic a cows natural growth hormone. Monsanto had pinned big hopes on taking the drug international.

But rbGH has always been controversial. At the time of approval, critics claimed and Monsanto’s own research affirmed, that milk from treated cows contained higher levels of a spin-off hormone IGF-1, which has been linked to prostate and breast cancer.

Monsanto insists the milk from treated cows is no different than untreated milk.

During an October analysts’ conference, Chief Financial Officer Terrell Crews told Chicago Business the company has seen declines in Posilac sales because “we’ve seen some pressure in the dairy business on that product.”

Rick North of PSR believes Monsanto is behind the push in Pennsylvania and has taken the effort to overturn labels to Ohio, which is scheduled to make a decision this month.  

Washington and Missouri had also been considering label prohibitions. Recently New Jersey had considered taking a similar action but opted against it.

Snyder admits there are lots of false labels that confront consumers everyday.   “Farm fresh” when it's been transported from Chile, ‘natural” when the food is highly processed.

“Certainly problems with labels are rampant, but in this case they picked on one certain issue and blew it out of proportion. They were doing this to preserve a market for the maker of rBST.”

The FDA announced this week that it had approved the milk and meat of cloned animals for human consumption.  Labels won't be needed the agency says. Snyder says the timing is curious. “To my mind a lot of the battle is not rbST but a fight over clone-free labels they’re preparing for because that’s going to be the bigger one.” 

As it stands for now, farmers in Pennsylvania who don’t use rbGH/rBST can continue labels that say their milk is “coming from cows not treated with rBST.”

What they can’t say is “No Hormones” because with natural hormones present, technically that isn't accurate.

Also the labels must include an FDA suggested disclaimer stating that, “no significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rBST-treated and
non-rBST-treated cows."

For dairy farmers who believe in local, regional and sustainable agriculture, Snyder says the ruling allows them to continue offering something the public wants.

“We have a couple thousand farmers in our membership and it just means everything to them that they can communicate to their customers about how they produce the foods they’re selling. It reaffirms a fundamental right that we can continue to put high quality products on the market and support farming methods they want to see.”  #

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18 Comments

Anonymous User
Posted by MaSaf Wil
Monday, January 21, 2008 5:51 AM EST

this is outstanding news....Hooray for Pennsylvania. Hooray for the consumer who has choice..Hooray for these lovely ladies who have been spared this Monsanto injection.

Anonymous User
Posted by Mar MCG
Monday, January 21, 2008 7:32 AM EST

Good for Pennsylvania,now the consumer in all states need to be spared this Monsanto injection.

Anonymous User
Posted by Raymond Gray
Monday, January 21, 2008 8:04 AM EST

As a newer citizen of Pennsylvania I am, of course, happy that the state is protecting its citizens from this typical march of big business to conceal and protect it's business prospects.

Now if we could just get a PA smoking ban like those in New Jersey, Ohio, New York, Delaware, Maryland...

About 33 states have some sort of smoking ban; PA seems headed to be last.

Raymond Gray

Anonymous User
Posted by You_Are_What_You_Eat
Monday, January 21, 2008 8:39 AM EST

This is a good step but when will we get labeling telling me how far the food I buy has had to travel?

Anonymous User
Posted by Nikos Retsos
Monday, January 21, 2008 8:40 AM EST

Actually Monsanto -the producer of RGH hormone- has
been trying for more than 10 years to keep "BGH [Bovine Growth Hormone, as I recall it] Free" labels
away from milk containers. When several milk producers decided then to label their milk "BGH Free", Monsanto threaten to sue them under the pretext that the label will give the consumer the
"false assumption that their milk is better!" And
Monsanto's sumo legal power size scared off all poor
farmers who thought nature's way of milk producing
was the way to go. After all the European Union doesn't allow any hormones in milk, and along with
Russia and Japan do not buy U.S. beef and poultry
laced with antibiotics.

But this is the U.S. where laws are determined by the
flow of political contributions to legislators. As
the late Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire told NB C's Tom Brokaw 15 years ago: "People with money
come to the U.S. Congress and buy legislation."

I am at a loss on why Pennsylvania decide to ban the label on BGH when the FDA mandates list of ingredients in everything in a store shelf. I hope
the Consumer Union which was part of this issue in
Pennsylvania will shed some light on a future issue
of its Consumers Reports magazine. Nikos Retsos

Anonymous User
Posted by Pam Killeen
Monday, January 21, 2008 12:21 PM EST

Why did they introduce rBGH at a time when there was a milk surplus? rBGH wasn't really introduced to increase milk production - it was introduced to increase corporate profits. rBGH has no business being injected into dairy cows. As long as companies can get patents on these types of products (including cloned animals), consumers will be fooled. Excellent article!

Anonymous User
Posted by Lara
Monday, January 21, 2008 4:14 PM EST

From the words of a veteranarian with the Humane Society of the U.S.
"Injecting Recombinant BGH is like giving the cow crack cocaine. It pulls calcium out of her skeleton, causing painful ambulation. It causes painful mastitis, as well."
I choose not to contribute to an animal's pain and suffering. That's my religion - the way I live.
Thanks for a great article. So glad that I'll be able to make humane shopping choices!

Anonymous User
Posted by Holli
Monday, January 21, 2008 4:49 PM EST

This is a step in the right direction. Consumers have a right to ALL the information necessary to make informed food purchasing decisions.

Anonymous User
Posted by Paul A
Monday, January 21, 2008 6:07 PM EST

A simple test for Monsanto's contention that most milk consumers don't care about the use of rBGH: ask any consumer if they would rather have milk from a hormone treated cow, or one from a cow not so treated. Consumers should always have the freedom to make that choice--but I'm pretty sure I know the answer.

Anonymous User
Posted by Teri Reinhart
Monday, January 21, 2008 6:50 PM EST

I sure hope OH follows suit. They tried to cram this down our throats last month and we haven't heard boo since the last hearing in December and a decision was supposed to be made before the first of the year < 2008.. It's time the government realizes we want more labeling, not less. DUH !!!!!

Anonymous User
Posted by Jim
Tuesday, January 22, 2008 10:28 AM EST

In a free society, how can anyone pass laws to keep us from knowing what is in our food and where it comes from. It's insane. Our health strongly depends on eating healthy, uncontaminated foods.
Our right to know about our food and about the operation of our government should both be a sacred right!

Anonymous User
Posted by mary gibson
Tuesday, January 22, 2008 11:56 AM EST

I believe in a Democracy, consumers have a right to know how the food they eat and drink is produced. It is what makes the USA great and this has shrunk in recent years as industrial Ag has taken over the family farms. Consumers are now stepping up to the plate and demanding what our Government should have been doing all along but due to the power of Farm Bureau, which I am told has shares in Monsanto, and which controls, in my opinion , the USDA it has not done.This is not good for small and medium sized farms which have been the backbone of our American agriculture, nor the animals and least of all the consumers. Maturing children at nine and ten is unAmerican, in my opinion.

Anonymous User
Posted by Janine
Friday, January 25, 2008 2:19 AM EST

Hurray for the people of Pennsylvania. We all have a right to know if Monsanto's hormones are in our milk and then make our own purchase decision.

Anonymous User
Posted by Jim C.
Friday, January 25, 2008 8:49 AM EST

This is great news. Now we need to label all foods that contain GMO products. In my opinion Monsanto is more than greedy, they are evil. They are trying to contaminate organic and non-GMO crops with their GMO seeds and pollen. They have terminator seeds which when will render the seeds produced by the crops sterile, requiring farmers to buy new seeds from Monsanto every year. They are also buying up the heirloom seed companies and are attempting to corner the market on seed. If we don't stop them, soon the only seeds available may be terminator GMO.

Watch the documentary film "The Future of Food".

Anonymous User
Posted by Jane Akre
Saturday, January 26, 2008 1:32 AM EST

Everyone who is interested in this topic!

This food fight is not going away. See our story on the fight ensuing in Indiana right now, and that governor may not have the national political aspirations that Pennsylvania's gov. did ( my understanding of why he responded to public pressure). Grass root groups are asking for input from the public to the Indiana House to let them know how you feel. It is interesting to see just how much power the public really has when they put their mind to it!

Anonymous User
Posted by Denise Richter
Monday, January 28, 2008 3:55 PM EST

Your comments deeply sadden me. Yes, you have been told many lies with the sole purpose of profit, but it wasn't from Monsanto. And no I don't work for Monsanto. But I do own & operate a family dairy farm. The misinformation came from the dairy processors and animal rights activities who want to make a buck and scare you.

ALL milk has hormones. NO milk has artificial hormones. NO milk has antibiotics. (Every load is tested and rejected if there is even the slightest trace. That is the LAW.)

Yes, you definately have a right to know what is in your food. But the labeling issue you are talking about is to prevent labels from confusing you by telling you what is NOT in the product, thereby alleging that other products DO contain it. ALL milk contains the growth hormone, even organic milk. It is a naturally occuring hormone. It appears in exactly the same form and quantity in milk from cows that have been treated, as it does in those who have not been treated.

As I said at the beginning, I am a dairy farmer. I have lived on a dairy farm for 49 years. We do not use Monsanto's product, but I don't like to see misinformation being spread to the consumers with the sole purpose of terrorizing them so a middle man can make a fast dollar. I would be happy to answer any other questions you have, so that you too can be an informed consumer and not one who has been manipulated with scare tactics.

Anonymous User
Posted by Jane Akre
Tuesday, January 29, 2008 1:52 PM EST

Hi Denise-

Thank you for your comments. People who grow our food are to only be respected in my opinion. I have found farmers and dairy operators to be honest, straightforward and anxious to deliver a quality product to the public.

As to antibiotics- when I did this story a decade ago, the USDA checked for a few antibiotics on a quarterly schedule. That leaves a huge hole for the many antibiotics used on the farm that are not being monitored.

Do you have some other information on how often the USDA is monitoring for antibiotics and how many kinds? As you know the beta lactum family (Penicillin) is just one of about seven types of antibotics that can be used.

Thanks so much and I'm anxious for your comments.

Anonymous User
Posted by John
Friday, February 01, 2008 1:17 PM EST

Jane,

Milk quality is monitored on a state level rather than federally by USDA. There is a zero tolerance policy in effect for antibiotics in milk. Every trailer load of milk that is shipped from a farm is tested for antibiotics prior to being unloaded at a processing plant. A number of different tests can be run but the CHARM test is standard. CHARM has tests for 9 different families of antibiotics, check them out at LINK If a load is found to be positive for antibiotics, than samples drawn at each farm that contibuted milk to that load are tested. The load of milk is dumped and the guilty producer than is responsible for reimbursing his peers for the milk lost. (Most antibiotic contaminations are accidental rather than intentional and occur when an employee accidentally milks a treated cow into the tank rather than isolating her milk.)
As a producer, my contention with the BST ban is that is has been forced upon farmers rather than being a voluntary practice. The cooperatives that represent and market milk for their members have in essence strong armed producers into signing affadavits rather than soliciting rbst free milk from those who choose not to use it. As consumers should have the right to know about their product, farmers should have a right to use legal technologies that contribute to their bottom line. I get offended when pompous consumers assert that farmers are too ignorant to know that they are getting swindled by Monsanto. We are businessmen and women also, we just choose to make our money through agriculture. If Posilac truly was detrimental to the health of our income producing assets, (cows) we surely wouldn't use it.

Comments for this article are closed.

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