Whether or not there's any discernible difference in the milk produced by cows on recombinant bovine growth hormones and those not, many consumers look for the rBGH-free or rbST-free labels as a window on the farm that produced their milk.
It tells them whether cows are being forced to produce milk at unusual rates.
Whatever choice the "hormone-free" label helps them make, they may be denied access to that information if Ohio follows the advice of Monsanto, the chemical giant that introduced the artificial growth hormone to the market in 1994. Pennsylvania is the only other state to make such a move, but New Jersey is considering it, too. The Ohio Department of Agriculture's Dairy Labeling Advisory Committee is meeting today to discuss, and will decide within weeks what to do.
"If the state decides to outlaw labels on milk and other dairy products, they take away Ohio consumers' right to know about the foods they eat," said Joseph Mendelson, Legal Director at the Washington D.C.-based Center for Food Safety. "Labeling gives consumers access to information on nutrition, freshness, and safety. How is it possibly in the public interest to take away their rights by keeping important dietary information from them?"
Ohio officials are hearing from consumers, however. Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports, has raised objections, along with a group 70 strong of farmers, food makers, retailers, consumers, advocates and others.
The group has complained that the deck is stacked against them: Of 20 people on Ohio's advisory committee, six are farmers who use hormones to boost milk production and one is a former area market manager for Monsanto.
The Food and Drug Administration has decided the hormones pose no serious risk to humans or cows, and Monsanto objects to having its product maligned. But some people doubt the wisdom of using artificial hormones to produce milk.
Let there be controversy. The issue is simple: A label never hurt anyone.
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