Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is standing up for consumers' right to know in a big way.
She has repelled the latest attempt by the agrichemical industry to prevent the simple labeling of milk that is produced without the use of synthetic hormones. Monsanto, before it sold its recombinant bovine growth hormone (known as rgGH or rbST), had started a backroom state-by-state campaign to convince state agricultural departments to ban the use of "hormone-free" milk labeling.
Earlier this month in Ohio, a federal court upheld that state's decision to go along with the agrichemical industry (Monsanto sold its synthetic hormone business to Eli Lily a few months ago).
The move also sends a signal to the nation -- not only because several other states (Pennsylvania, Missouri and Indiana, among them) are considering labeling bans -- but because Sebelius is President Obama's pick to head the Department of Health and Human Services.
She criticized the bill because it "could make it more difficult to provide consumers with clear information. The milk labeling provisions negatively impact a dairy producers ability to inform consumers that milk is from cows not treated with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBST)."
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.
The Organic Trade Association has led a heroic effort, in conjunction with dozens of health, consumer, farm and environmental groups, to ward off the attack on truth in labeling.
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?
Even in Ohio, 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.
But in Kansas, at least, consumers can see clearly that the cows that produced their milk were not hopped up on synthetic hormones, and they can continue to make their buying decisions based on clear information in the marketplace.
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