Here’s an item that may or may not have caught your attention. It didn’t seem to get all that much press outside of the agricultural community, despite the significant impact it would have had on dairy farmers’ free speech rights.
In October, Dept. of Agriculture Sec. Dennis Wolff announced that Pennsylvania dairy farmers who do not inject their cows with artificial growth hormones, often referred to as rBST, would no longer be able to point out that fact to their customers on their product labels. (The synthetic hormones are said to boost milk production by about 10 percent, and were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1994. They are banned in Canada and Europe.)
Referred to as “absence labeling,” Pennsylvania was the first state in the country to ban the practice. In his most sincerely paternalistic way, Wolff argued that there’s no difference between milk from cows injected with rBST and those that aren’t, so all those fancy big words just confuse customers.
See, Wolff explained, he’s just looking out for you and me. He doesn’t want us moms trying to choose milk for our children to get all muddle-headed with choices in the grocery aisles.
Following outcry from small farmers and consumer rights’ activists, yesterday, Gov. Ed Rendell’s office announced that the Dept. of Agriculture was revoking its proposed ban, amid the creation of new labeling standards.
The Philadelphia Inquirer has the update. It’s not exactly a victory for free-speech rights, since this should have never been an issue in the first place.
The article says
Though labels are once again permitted to mention that hormones were not used, the standards require a disclaimer stating there is no difference in milk from cows injected with hormones and milk from cows that are not injected. Such disclaimers already are printed on many milk cartons.
Most scientists agree that it is almost impossible to detect the artificial hormone in milk. But there are other related issues that concern customers. Users of rBST are warned that the drug increases incidents of mastitis. Cows with mastitis must be treated with antibiotics. And here’s a nice tidbit, mastitis also increases the amount of puss in your milk. (Don’t know about you, but that fact alone is reason enough for me to support rBST-free labels.)
One doesn’t have to go back very far to find Monsanto’s tentacles intertwined in the process. The agri-business chemical giant and maker of Agent Orange is also the maker of rBST, marketed under the name Posilac.
For the past year, Monsanto has been lobbying state farming organizations to support labeling bans. And for good reason, according to this absolutely terrific report by Susan Erem for the Voice of Central Pennsylvania, Monsanto earns $64,000 per day just in Pennsylvania solely from the sale of Posilac.
The article is long, but it’s the best comprehensive account of the issue that I’ve seen written anywhere. If you’re interested in this issue, I encourage you to read it.
Pennsylvania is the fourth largest state producer of milk in the country. But the fight isn’t yet over. Monsanto has been bullying organic dairy farmers for years over the labeling issue. It appealed its case to the FDA, but was rejected. Other states, such as Ohio, New Jersey and Michigan, are now mulling over similar bans.
Quite simply, as long as the claims are not fraudulent, farmers who reject using rBST should be free to say what they want on their labels. And here’s an idea: Farmers who proudly use rBST are free to point out that fact on their labels too. That way, rather than allowing government to silence discourse, they can simply battle it out in the free market.
Lauri in York