When consumers go to the supermarket, many want information to help them choose those products they think are most healthy, raised with high ethical standards and developed without damaging the environment.
For many, that means choosing hormone-free milk.
But in Ohio, and other states, the chemical giant that makes synthetic hormones (rBST, or recombinant bovine somatropin) has been fighting to make it illegal to label milk as being rBST-free. Monsanto's argument is that growing cows differently produces no discernible difference in milk they produce.
But 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-calender milk production? Might there be some health problems associated with synthetic hormones that we just haven't identified yet?
Because of these and other questions, the federal organic standards prohibit the use of synthetic hormones in any food labeled "organic." Use of rBST is banned in Canada, Japan and Europe.
And the Organic Trade Association has filed a legal complaint against the Ohio Department of Agriculture, challenging as unconstitutional the department's rule that would prevent rBST-free labeling on milk. (The International Dairy Foods Association has filed a similar complaint.) The department enacted the rule under "emergency" regulations, but the emergency here seems to be Monsanto leaning on government bureaucrats to avoid the black eye its product has.
Under Ohio's rules, even organic dairies could not write on their cartons "produced with milk from cows that have not been treated with synthetic growth hormones." Denying farmers that amounts to restricting their free speech, infringing on Congress's responsibility to regulate commerce and preempts federal organic labeling rules, the Organic Trade Association alleges.
"The Organic Trade Association firmly believes that consumers have a right to know, and want to know, about the products they purchase," said Caren Wilcox, executive director for the OTA, "and organic farmers and processors have a right to communicate with their consumers regarding federally regulated organic production practices."
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