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OH Governor urged to modify rule on milk labels

April 7, 2008


Group Provides Evidence of No Environmental Benefit to Use of Artificial Hormone

Ohio Dairy Labeling Advisory Committee Hearing to be Held April 8

A coalition of consumer and environmental groups today wrote to Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, urging him to reconsider the proposed Ohio rule that would restrict labels on milk from cows not treated with Monsanto’s synthetic recombinant bovine growth hormone (known as “rbST” or “rbGH”). Because the recently revised rule still restricts free speech and consumers’ right-to-know by prohibiting truthful and informative labels such as “rbGH-free,” “rbST-free” and “no artificial hormones,” the groups urged Strickland to change the rule to permit use of these labels. In addition, they set forth compelling arguments that refute manufacturer’s claims that use of rbGH benefits the environment. A copy of the letter can be found here.
On March 25, the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) refiled its proposed dairy labeling rule with the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR), modifying its original rule filed Feb. 7. The ODA will hold a public hearing April 8 at 10 a.m. in Reynoldsburg to gather public testimony on the modified rule, which is scheduled to be reviewed by JCARR on April 21.
Under the modified rule, milk product labels generally may not make “compositional absence claims‚” like “hormone free” or “rbST-free”; may make “production claims” which reflect the way a dairy product was produced; and must include, along with any permissible production claim about the use of rbST, and must include a statement regarding the FDA’s determination that no significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rbST-supplemented and non-rbST-supplemented cows.
The groups take issue with the portion of the modified rule which states that all claims about the composition of milk are false and misleading. Dr. Carol Goland, executive director of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, said, “The claim ‘from cows not treated with rbGH’ is permitted in this rule because it is neither false nor misleading. It logically follows that the statements ‘rbGH-free’ or ‘rbST-free’ cannot be false or misleading and so should be allowed as well. Prohibiting farmers, dairies and processors from making the truthful label claim ‘rbGH-free’ runs counter to the Governor’s stated desire to give consumers the information they need to make decisions about the dairy products they purchase.”
The groups also dispute Strickland’s Executive Order 2008-03S, which states, “This artificial hormone is a duplicate of the naturally occurring hormone found in cows.” “In fact, FDA has declared that rbGH is not identical to (nor a duplicate of) the naturally produced bGH, but differs by one amino acid,” explained Dr. Michael Hansen, senior scientist for Consumers Union, nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports. “Furthermore, research in Europe has clearly shown that antibodies can distinguish between Monsanto’s rbGH product, Posliac, and naturally produced bGH. Since rbGH is a synthetic molecule that does not occur in nature, if a cow has not been treated with rbGH, by definition, its milk is ‘rbGH-free.’ “
In addition, the coalition firmly asserts that labeling carrying the FDA determination is not needed because it exceeds FDA’s own guidance, which explicitly states that such a contextual statement is not required.
Importantly, the coalition, which also includes the Ohio Environmental Council, Ohio Public Interest Research Group, Center for Food Safety, Consumer Federation of America, and Food & Water Watch, refute the argument that use of rbGH benefits the environment because the same amount of milk can be produced with fewer cows, thereby reducing the amount of manure and methane cows released into the atmosphere.
Those advancing this position also claim that less feed is needed to produce the same quantity of milk, which would mean smaller acreage of land needed to provide feed for dairy cattle and fewer inputs to produce that feed. The letter makes the following compelling points:
• The studies claiming an increase in feed efficiency 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 Posliac, their rbGH product, increased both feed efficiency and milk production.
• FDA, in a letter to Monsanto dated April 3, 1988, noted that Monsanto’s data failed to show a statistically significant increase in feed efficiency. When Posliac was finally approved on November 5, 1993, the label claim for increased feed efficiency was not allowed: the FDA noted that Monsanto could not produce enough convincing data on this issue.
• 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.
“FDA found any notion of environmental benefits due to reduction in manure, methane, acreage or the need to grow feed crops unconvincing,” said Dr. Hansen. “Cows treated with rbGH may produce more milk, but they also consume more feed and produce more manure and methane.”
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Naomi Starkman, CU, 917.539.3924
John Bianchi, Goodman Media, 212.576.2700