December 1, 2008
Today, 94 dairy farmers; consumer, farm and agricultural groups; public health, animal protection and environmental organizations; food processors; and retailers wrote to Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius to urge the state not to prohibit farmers from labeling their dairy products as “artificial growth hormone free.” Recently, similar attempts in several other states to ban such labels have been dismissed or rejected. Copies of the letter can be found here:
http://www.consumersunion.org/pdf/KS-Gov-ltr-BGH-free.pdf and http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/food/foodsafety/sebelius
Tomorrow at 10 a.m., the Kansas Department of Agriculture will hold a public hearing in Topeka to discuss its proposed rule to ban labels such as “rbGH-free,” “rbST free,” or “no artificial growth hormones,” on dairy products. rbGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone, also referred to as recombinant bovine somatotropin, or rbST) is a genetically engineered animal drug that some farmers inject into dairy cows to increase milk production. The proposal goes beyond U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidance which permits labels such as “no artificial growth hormones.”
While proponents maintain that the labeling ban would protect consumers from misleading information, the signers of the letter believe that the proposed rule would inhibit farmers’ right to free speech, keep consumers from learning how their food is produced, and create barriers to the free flow of products in interstate commerce. The group also objects to making a disclaimer not required by the FDA—“No significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rBST-treated and non-rBST-treated cows”—mandatory; a move that the Kansas Department of Agriculture has discussed implementing.
A recent Consumers Union Poll revealed that 93 percent of consumers agree 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, 57 percent of Americans are willing to pay more for milk and milk products produced without artificial growth hormones.
“The proposed rule, which could undermine consumers’ rights as well as prevent free-enterprise, is an insult to both the citizens and dairy producers of Kansas,” said Donn Teske, President of the Kansas Farmers Union. “If it passes, it could set the stage for further banning of labels, making it impossible to inform buyers about beneficial processes behind other food products like ‘pasture poultry’ or ‘grass-fed beef.’”
“Because little testing has been done, we just don’t know what the long-term health impacts of rBST might be,” said Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Food Safety. “Until consumer health can be assured, we urge Governor Sebelius to consider Kansans’ right to know how their milk is produced.”
“Since the FDA’s controversial decision to approve the use of rbGH, questions have only grown about its safety for humans,” said Dr. Michael Hansen, Senior Scientist for Food Safety for Consumers Union; senders of a similar letter to the Governor and the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports. “Consumers should have the ability to buy milk from untreated cows if they want to.”
“Kansas consumers are entitled to more information about the food they buy—not less—and farmers should be allowed to provide that,” said Laura Fortmeyer, a Kansas livestock farmer and board member of the Kansas Rural Center. “If dairy farmers are willing to provide the rbGH-free milk that many consumers seek, Kansas officials should not stand in the way.”
“This is, fundamentally, a consumer right-to-know issue,” said Craig Volland, Agriculture Chair of the Kansas Chapter, Sierra Club. “Product labeling is one of the few ways consumers can exercise freedom of choice when it comes to food production, and they must be given all the necessary information to make informed decisions.”
The following organizations have signed onto the letter:
American Agriculture Movement; American Corn Growers Association; Aurora Organic Dairy; Beyond Pesticides; BioVision2020; Bon Appetit Management Co.; Boulder Ice Cream; Breast Cancer Action; Campaign for Safe Food; Campaign for Safe Food, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility; Center for Corporate Policy; Center for Environmental Health; Center for Food Safety; Center for Media and Democracy; Center for Rural Affairs, Lyons, Nebraska; Citizens for Health; Clintonville Farmers Market; Community Farm Alliance, Kentucky; Community Food Initiatives; Consumer Federation of America; Cornucopia Institute; Countryside Conservancy; Edmonds Institute; Endangered Habitats League Los Angeles; Environmentally Concerned Citizens of Randolph County Indiana; Family Farm Defenders; Farm Animal Welfare, Humane Society of the United States; Farm Sanctuary; Farmer-to-farmer Campaign on Genetic Engineering; Florida Organic Growers and Consumers; Food & Water Watch; Georgia Organics; Good Earth Natural Foods, Fairfax, CA; Horizon Dairy; Humane Farming Association; Illinois Stewardship Alliance; Indiana Campaign for Family Farmers; Indiana Farmers Union; Innovative Farmers of Ohio; Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy; Institute for Justice; Institute for Responsible Technology; JaKo, Inc.; Kansas City Food Circle; Kansas Farmers Union; Kansas Rural Center; Kirschenmann Family Farms Medina, North Dakota; 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 (VT, NH, MA, CT, NY, NJ, and RI); Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society; Northwood Farms, Wonewoc, WI; Ohio Citizen Action; Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association; Ohio Environmental Council; Ohio Farmers Union; Oneota Community Co-op, Decorah, Iowa; Oregon Ice Cream Company; Organic Consumers Association; Organic Crop Improvement Association, Kansas #2; Organic Farming Research Foundation; Organic Trade Association; Peacework Farm; Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture; Protect Our Woods, Indiana; Radiance Dairy Fairfield, Iowa; Reclaim Democracy; Rodale Institute; Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA; Science and Environmental Health Network; Sierra Club; Sierra Club Kansas Chapter; Stonyfield Farm, Inc.; Straus Family Creamery Marshall, CA; Sustainable Agriculture Coalition; Sustainable Earth, Indiana; The Campaign; Union of Concerned Scientists; Western Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, Victor, MT; White Dog Community Enterprises, Philadelphia, PA; Whole Foods Market, Emeryville, CA; Willow Creek Farm Belmont, New York; Wright Way Dairy, Hermon, New York
Naomi Starkman, CU, 917.539.3924
John Bianchi, Goodman Media, 212.576.2700