A federal court in Ohio has ruled that dairies cannot legally label their milk "hormone free," "rBST-free" or otherwise clearly tell consumers that they aren't pumping up their cows with synthetic hormones.
It's a blow to truth-in-labeling advocates, a blow to consumers and a blow to organic farmers. It's a win for Monsanto, the agrichemical giant that prompted the lawsuit, and a win for Eli Lilly, which bought Monsanto's synthetic recombinant bovine growth hormones (known as rBST or rBGH) business a couple months ago. The use of these hormones is banned throughout most other first world nations. The labeling issue is moot in the 27-nation European Union, along with Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, since they don't allow the use of synthetic hormones in the first place.
Ohio was one of at least five states -- Pennsylvania, Missouri, Indiana and Kansas were others -- where Monsanto launched quiet attacks on milk labeling through state agricultural departments. The Organic Trade Association led a heroic effort to ward off the attack on truth in labeling, but in Ohio, a federal court ruled March 30 that the agriculture department's hastily enacted "emergency rule" should stand.
When consumers go to the supermarket, many want information to help them choose those products that are most healthy, raised with high ethical standards and produced without damaging the environment. For many, that means choosing hormone-free milk.
Many see the hormone-free label as a proxy for a wider set of issues. Is it right or necessary to speed up the development and boost the milk output of our dairy cows? Doesn't use of hormones go hand-in-hand with use of antibiotics to treat cows sickened by the exertion of round-the-calendar milk production? Might there be some health problems associated with synthetic hormones that we just haven't identified yet?
The Organic Trade Association points out -- rightly -- that consumers can still choose milk raised without synthetic hormones. Just look for the USDA Organic seal. In order to qualify for the organic label, organic farmers are prohibited from using synthetic growth hormones, genetically engineered organisms (GMOS), antibiotics and toxic, persistent, synthetic pesticides.
That shouldn't preclude dairies from labeling their milk accurately, but agribusiness has won the day in court on this issue.
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