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Letter to Kansas Governor on rbGH milk labeling policy

December 1, 2008
Governor Kathleen Sebelius
Office of the Governor
Capitol, 300 SW 10th Ave., Ste. 212S
Topeka, KS 66612-1590
Dear Governor Sebelius,
Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, is writing to oppose proposed rule K.A.R. 4-7-723 that restricts labels on dairy products from cows not treated with recombinant bovine growth hormone (known as rbGH). This proposed rule would ban labels such as “rbGH-free,” “rbST free,” or “no artificial growth hormones,” on dairy products and would require a disclaimer in certain font size when a label states “from cows not treated with rbGH.” We feel that the proposed rule puts unnecessary obstacles in the way of consumers getting the information they want, restricts free speech rights of dairies and processors, interferes with the smooth functioning of free markets and could lead to increased costs for the state.
RbGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone, also referred to as recombinant bovine somatotropin, or rbST) is an animal drug manufactured by Monsanto (and now made by Elanco) that some farmers inject into dairy cows to increase milk production.
We object to a number of sections in this proposed rule, which would make it much more difficult for farmers to inform consumers that they are not using this hormone on their cows.
We oppose Section d, which would classify all claims about the composition of milk with respect to hormones as false and misleading. We agree that certain claims, e.g. “No Hormones,” “Hormone Free,” or “BST Free” are misleading as all milk contains hormones, including bovine growth hormone. But not all milk contains synthetic,
artificial growth hormones. Thus, it is not misleading to say milk from cows not treated with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rbGH) is “rbGH-free.” As the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has pointed out, rbGH is not identical to the naturally produced bGH but differs by one amino acid: “Monsanto Agricultural Company’s
product has a single amino acid substitution of Met for Ala on the NH2-terminus end.”
Furthermore, research in Europe has clearly shown that antibodies can distinguish between Monsanto’s rbGH product and naturally produced bGH.2 Thus, since rbGH is a synthetic molecule that does not occur in nature, if a cow has not been treated with rbGH then its milk will/lot contain rbGH. By definition, such milk is “rbGH-free.” The label claim “this milk is from cows not treated with rbGH” is permitted in this rule because it is not false and misleading. It logically follows that the claims “rbGl-l-free” or “rbSTfree” are not false and misleading on dairy products from untreated cows and so should be allowed as well.
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 rbGHtreated cows, and adverse effects on the safety of the animal including increases in mastitis, reproductive effects, and foot problems.
For complete letter, click here (PDF format).