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Letter to Utah Governor seeking opposition to proposed food labeling legislation

February 25, 2008
Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr.
Utah State Capitol Complex
350 North State Street, Suite 200
PO Box 142220
Salt Lake City, Utah 84114-2220
Dear Governor Huntsman,
Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, is writing to urge you to oppose the proposed food labeling and advertising rules (Administrative Rule R70-340), which would prohibit farmers from telling consumers that they aren’t using artificial hormones on their dairy cows. We urge you not to prohibit labels such as “Our farmers’ pledge: no artificial growth hormones,” “From cows not treated with the growth hormone rBST,” and “free of artificial growth hormones.” These labels are not misleading, and would be made illegal if SB 595 is passed. Recently similar labeling rules have been considered in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and New Jersey, and have been dismissed due to overwhelming consumer opposition.
We urge you not to prohibit claims about the non-use of hormones for the following reasons:
– Consumers have the right-to-know about the foods they eat. Many consumers prefer to buy milk produced by cows not treated with artificial hormones, as evidenced by the success in stores across the country of such milk. Consumers have a basic right to choose about the characteristics of the food they buy.
– Any prohibition would be a serious infringement on the free speech rights of farmers who want to inform the public about their agricultural practices. Some claim that these labels can be misleading because they cannot be verified by a test. However, many label claims, including “locally grown” and “Kansas Grown” cannot be verified by a laboratory test. In addition, all required country-of-origin labels cannot be verified with a test; rather, they are verified by simple written statement/declaration.
– In 1994, after the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved use of Monsanto’s recombinant bovine growth hormone (rbGH), the FDA also said that the following label statement, in proper context, is acceptable: “from cows not treated with rbST.” In 2007, Monsanto asked FDA and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to declare these labels to be misleading. In late August, the FTC wrote to Monsanto, “The FTC staff agrees with FDA that food companies may inform consumers in advertising, as in labeling, that they do not use rBST.” Thus, Kansas SB 595 contradicts long established federal policy on this matter.
– The use of rbGH remains controversial and was not approved in Canada, Japan, and the European Union because of negative effects of rbGH use on animal health. Codex Alimentarius, the United Nations main food safety body, twice decided that it could not endorse the safety of rbGH for human health.
We urge you and the Utah Department of Agriculture not to interfere with the rights of farmers, dairies and consumers.
Consumers have a right to know what’s in their food and how it’s produced. Farmers and dairies have the right to tell them.
Michael Hansen, Ph.D.
Senior Scientist