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Letter to OH Governor regarding rule that would restrict labels on milk from cows not treated with rbGH

April 7, 2008
Governor Ted Strickland
Governor’s Office
Riffe Center, 30th Flr.
77 South High St.
Columbus, OH 43215-6108
Dear Governor Strickland,
We, the undersigned consumer and environmental groups, are writing about the revised dairy labeling rule in Ohio that would restrict labels on milk that comes from cows not treated with a synthetic bovine growth hormone, known as rbGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone, also known as rbST). The revised rule still restricts free speech and consumers’ right-to-know by prohibiting truthful and informative labels such as “rbGH-free” and “no artificial hormones.”
The revised rule still contains 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” or “artificial hormone free.” First, your Executive Order 2008—03S states, “This artificial hormone is a duplicate of the naturally occurring hormone found in cows.” In fact, as FDA has pointed out, rbGH is not identical to (or a duplicate of) 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.” (1) 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 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.
We also believe that there are no benefits to consumers or the environment from rbGH use. We are aware that some proponents of rbGH make the argument that use of rbGH is good for the environment because you can produce the same amount of milk with fewer cows. They claim that if rbGH is used, less manure and methane (a greenhouse gas found in cow emissions, e.g. farts and burps) is produced. This environmental benefit argument is based on the notion that rbGH increases the efficiency with which the cow’s digestive system converts feed to milk. If you could produce the same amount of milk with less feed, there would be less manure and methane as there would be less waste from the feed that needs to get excreted. In addition, less feed needed to produce the same quantity of milk would mean smaller acreage of feed needed to feed dairy cattle, less inputs to produce that feed, etc.
Although proponents of the supposed environmental benefit of rbGH can point to studies in the scientific literature that have found an increase in feed efficiency, those studies were conducted for Monsanto and do not constitute all the data Monsanto gathered on this issue. In fact, Monsanto originally wanted to make the label claim that their rbGH product (POSILAC) increased both feed efficiency and milk production. FDA, in a letter to Monsanto dated April 3, 1988, noted that their data failed to show a statistically significant increase in feed efficiency: “The requested label claim for the product [POSILAC] is increased milk production and feed efficiency in lactating dairy cows. . . . 11. Because you found no statistical differences between treatment groups for feed efficiency, this statistical data was not reviewed.”(3) When the product was finally approved on November 5, 1993, FDA published a Freedom of Information Summary, which noted “2. Indications for Use: For increased production of marketable milk in lactating dairy cows.” (4) The label claim for increased feed efficiency was not allowed, which means that Monsanto could not produce enough data to convince FDA on this issue.
Furthermore, the FDA’s Environmental Assessment (EA) discussed a number of studies on rbGH’s impact on manure production or greenhouse gas emissions and found no significant benefit associated with rbGH use. On the issue of manure production, the FDA EA notes “According to the 1987 and 1990 Fallert studies and the 1988 Preckel study, dairy industry acceptance of BST is not likely to lead to any significant shift or impact on . . . manure production.” (5) On the issue of greenhouse gas emissions, the FDA EA notes there were “two reports analyzing sometribove’s potential effects on greenhouse gas emissions. . . The results of the Hartnell analysis demonstrate that the use of POSILAC will either slightly increase or slightly decrease emissions . . . the magnitude of the changes will be extremely small and insignificant compared to total worldwide emissions of carbon dioxide and methane. The results of the Irwin analysis demonstrate that the manufacture and transport of POSILAC will result in incremental increases in carbon dioxide and methane emissions.” (6)
In sum, FDA found any notions of environmental benefits due to reduction in manure, methane, acreage need to grow feed crops, etc. unconvincing. Cows treated with rbGH may produce more milk, but they also consume more feed and produce more manure and methane. While fewer cows may produce the same amount of milk, their manure and methane output is unchanged. Because there is no improvement in feed efficiency there is no environmental benefit.
In addition, we continue to think that Ohio does not need to require the FDA determination (“The FDA has determined that no significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rbST-treated and non-rbST-treated cows”) for the reasons pointed out in the March 11, 2008 letter to you, signed by more than 70 dairy farmers, consumer, farm and agricultural, public health, animal protection and environmental organizations, food processors and retailers.
We urge you to modify your milk rule to permit use of the claims “rbGH-free,” “rbST-free” and “no artificial hormones.”
Thank you for consideration of our views.
Michael Hansen, PhD, Senior Scientist,
Consumers Union
Carol Goland, Executive Director
Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association
Ellen Mee, Director of Environmental Health Programs
Ohio Environmental Council
Morgan Keenan,
Ohio Public Interest Research Group (PIRG)
Joe Mendelson, Legal Director
Center for Food Safety
Christopher Waldrop, Director
Food Policy Institute
Consumer Federation of America
Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director
Food and Water Watch
Cc: Robert J. Boggs, Director Ohio Department of Agriculture
(1) Juskevich, JC and CG Guyer. 1990. Bovine growth hormone: Human food safety evaluation. Science, 249: 875-884.
(2) Erhard, MH, Kellner, J, Schmidhuber, S, Schams, D and U Lösch. 1994. Identification of antigenic differences of recombinant and pituitary bovine growth hormone using monoclonal antibodies. Journal of Immunoassay, 15: 1-19. and Castigliego, L, Iannone, G, Grifoni, G, Rosati, R, Gianfaldoni,D and A Guidi. 2007. Natural and recombinant bovine somatotropin: immunodetection with a sandwich ELISA. Journal of Dairy Research, 74: 79-85.
(3) Letter from Richard Lehmann, FDA to Terence Harvey, Monsanto, dated April 3, 1988 on NADA 140-872.
(4) Available at: http://www.fda.gov/cvm/4386.htm#ind
(5) Pg. 7 in FDA EA on Methionyl Bovine Somatotropin, POSILAC. At: http://www.fda.gov/cvm/Documents/BSTEAFONSI.pdf
(6) Ibid, pg. 7