Pennsylvania bars milk that's labeled "hormone-free"
Pennsylvania is stopping dairies from stamping milk containers with hormone-free labels in a precedent-setting decision. Synthetic hormones have been...
The Associated Press
HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania is stopping dairies from stamping milk containers with hormone-free labels in a precedent-setting decision.
Synthetic hormones have been used to improve milk production in cows for more than a decade. The chemical has not been detected in milk, so there is no way to test for its use, but more retailers have been selling and promoting hormone-free products in response to consumer demand.
State Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff said advertising one brand of milk as free from artificial hormones implies competitors' milk is not safe, and it often comes with what he said is an unjustified higher price.
"It's kind of like a nuclear-arms race," Wolff said. "One dairy does it, and the next tries to outdo them. It's absolutely crazy."
Agricultural regulators in New Jersey and Ohio also are considering a ban, the latest battle in a long-standing dispute over whether injecting cows with bovine growth hormone affects milk.
Effective Jan. 1, dairies selling milk in Pennsylvania, the nation's fifth-largest dairy state, will be banned from advertising on milk containers that their product comes from cows that have never been treated with rBST, or recombinant bovine somatotropin.
The product, sold by St. Louis-based Monsanto under the brand name Posilac, is the country's largest-selling dairy pharmaceutical. It is also known as recombinant bovine growth hormone, or rBGH.
It has been approved for use in the United States since 1994, although safety concerns have spurred an increase in rBST-free product sales. The hormone is banned in the European Union, Canada, Australia and Japan, largely out of concern that it may be harmful to herd health.
Monsanto spokesman Michael Doane said the hormone-free label "implies to consumers ... that there's a health-and-safety difference between these two milks, that there's 'good' milk and 'bad' milk, and we know that's not the case."
Rick North, of the Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, a leading critic of the artificial growth hormone, said the Pennsylvania rules amounted to censorship.
"This is a clear example of Monsanto's influence," he said.
Acting on an advisory panel's recommendation, the Pennsylvania Agriculture Department notified 16 dairies in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts that their labels were false or misleading and had to be changed by the end of December.
"There's absolutely no way to certify whether the milk is from cattle treated or not treated" with rBST, Wolff said. "Some of the dairies that have enforced this, it's absolutely the honor system."
Rutter's Dairy, a central Pennsylvania company that sells about 300,000 gallons a week, began promoting its milk as free of artificial hormones this summer. It has fired back at the state decision with full-page newspaper ads and a lobbying campaign. It is also urging customers to protest.
Rutter's sells its milk at the state's minimum price, but a national spot check of prices by the American Farm Bureau last month found "rBST-free" milk typically costs about 25 percent more.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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