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Ban on Milk Labeling Ruled Unconstitutional

After more than two years of litigation, a federal court last week struck down an Ohio ban on labeling dairy products as “rbGH free,” “rbST free,” or “artificial hormone free” if produced by cows not treated with bovine growth hormone.  

In what could prove to be a landmark case, the Sixth Circuit Court of  Appeals ruled that Ohio’s absolute ban on hormone-free claims violated dairy processors’ First Amendment rights and was “more extensive than necessary to serve the state’s interest in preventing consumer deception.”

Perhaps more notable, the court also ruled that rbST-treated milk is compositionally different, disagreeing with both the lower court’s ruling and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s finding that there is no significant difference between milk produced by cows treated with rbST and by those without.

As NPR reported Friday, the court cites three reasons milk produced by rbST-treated cows is different: Increased levels of the hormone IGF-1, a period of milk with lower nutritional quality during each lactation, and increased somatic cell counts (i.e. more pus in the milk).  The court further noted that higher somatic cell counts indicate milk is poor quality and will turn sour more quickly.
 
“This evidence precludes us from agreeing with the district court’s conclusion that there is no compositional difference between the two types of milk,” reads the opinion.

When it approved rbST, FDA ruled that milk from cows given the synthetic hormone is not significantly different than milk from cows not treated with the hormone and is safe for consumption.  The agency did not require labeling for products produced with rbST, which can increase milk production by as much as 10 percent.  In the years following approval, however, voluntary labeling for dairies opting out of using the hormone has gone mainstream.

In 2008, the Ohio Department of Agriculture instituted a state-wide ban on using any hormone-free claims on dairy products.  The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) filed suit in June of 2008 and the Organic Trade Association joined the case when IDFA filed its appeal.

“We’re pleased with the decision and feel that the court upheld our position that IDFA members have the constitutional right to make truthful and not misleading claims on their product labels,” said Clay Hough, IDFA senior group vice president, in a statement last week.

Consumers Union, a leading consumer advocacy organization that publishes Consumer Reports, called the decision “a big win for consumers.”

“The U.S. is in the minority among industrialized nations to allow the use of artificial growth hormones to stimulate milk production in dairy herds,” noted Consumers Union in a statement. “The practice is prohibited in Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and in the 27 countries of the European Union.”

Food and Water Watch, the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association and the Ohio Environmental Council all praised the decision, noting that much of the milk produced in Ohio is sold across state lines.  ”[T]his ruling is a victory for consumers in Ohio and throughout the U.S.”

According to IDFA, it is unclear what steps the state of Ohio might take next: “State officials may appeal to the full Sixth Circuit for an En Banc, or all-judge, review or to the U.S. Supreme Court. Without an appeal, the case would return to the District Court for further proceedings consistent with the Appeals Court’s decision. IDFA believes that settlement discussions between IDFA, OTA and state officials are also an option.”  

© Food Safety News
  • Paul Nunes

    Hallelujah! This has been a major problem for parents trying to limit the consumption of hormones by their children. I’m convinced that the increase of hormones in our milk supply has accelerated the onset of puberty among girls- the consequences of which we have not measured, but are profound.

  • Joanna

    Dairy farmer checking in here. Just read the brief and unfortunately I can’t believe the amici curiae is an appropriate resource for the justification of separating the milk composition. There is no difference in composition between milk from cows that are organic, treated with rBST or those not treated with rBST. Sort of at a loss here.
    And Nunes – check out the studies on the improvement of nutition, (perhaps over-improvement?) but also the psychological effect our sex-infused media has on that subject. Hormones are always present in every food.

  • http://www.oregonpsr.org Rick North

    I represent Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, which has led an educational and citizen action effort opposing rBGH for the past seven years.
    In contrast to the above comment, the amicus brief was right on target. Monsanto’s own research showed that IGF-1 levels and somatic cell count were increased by rBGH, making the milk compositionally different.
    There are very good reasons why most of the industrialized nations in the world have banned the use of rBGH, and why Codex Alimentarius, the U.N.’s main food safety body, concluded there was no consensus that rBGH was safe for human health.
    The American Public Health Association, American Nurses Association, Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports), Center for Food Safety and Health Care Without Harm, a large coalition of over 460 institutions promoting safe practices in hospitals, all have determined that rBGH poses risks to human and animal health. There are many more.
    For more information, see our website at http://www.oregonpsr.org and click on Safe Food and rBGH. And please feel free to contact me directly at hrnorth@hevanet.com or 503-968-1520.
    Rick North

  • Anonymous

    Joanna – You are about as much a dairy farmer as the Easter bunny is. Be gone corporate weasel!

  • Joanna

    Rick – thank you for the information. Can you please share with me the actual scientific study? I have read them myself, but I admit it has been quite some time. The study I read that most of the groups you mention point to determined the actual results inconclusive.
    Thanks.

  • D.N.

    Besides, compositional differences or not, it seems unconscionable to restrict labeling on the subject.

  • http://www.killingmother.blogspot.com Kathleen McNary Wood

    Let’s hope the corporation-friendly Supreme Court doesn’t overturn this wonderful ruling. It is insane that consumers are denied truthful information that will help them make educated decisions. It is also insane that farmers who take the time, expense and care to raise their livestock healthfully cannot label their packages accordingly.

  • Liam Sauer-Wooden

    Joanna, IMO, folks are still entitled to accurate and full disclosure on consumables so they can be in accord with their personal decisions about what they do and don’t want in their bodies.

  • dangermaus

    @Liam
    Exactly… There’s too many “experts” out there telling us “don’t worry about that” regarding this kind of thing, and they’re all steadily losing credibility. We need to cut down on the number of middle-men between our farmers and our kitchen tables so we can all make judgments about food based on our own values.

  • Louise Hyson

    Bravo to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals – the idea of introducing chemicals, hormones, etc. into food is so repugnant to me and to many others. People with differing opinions who try to confuse the issue and claim all is well with milk containing antibiotics, hormones and pus are entitled to buy and consume such but the rest of us have to same right to buy what we consider safe-to-drink milk and/or cream.

  • Joanna

    Hi – Thanks for the constructive comments. My fiance and I have 25 milking cows – a mix of holstein and jerseys. I also have an undergraduate and graduate degree and a professional career.
    The issue is not about a restriction on labeling but to force more of an accurate label for yes, believe it or not, consumer benefit. “rBGH free” or “rBST free” or “artificial hormone free” milk is simply not accurate. These things are not added to the milk nor does it show up in the milk when it is used on the farm. In fact I think takes advantage of consumers’ lack of knowledge and lack of willingness to follow up with what a statement actually means. A cynic might say any claim to promoting a healthier product, true or not, will make a quicker sale because how many will actually follow up and even read the rest of the label let alone research what the claim is?
    Moreover, as the court correctly pointed out, there is no test for milk to determine whether it is from cows treated with rBST or not – because there is no compositional difference. Thus a claim made on the label cannot truly be backed up scientifically – certainly not beyond the existing pledge that a dairy farmer signs promising not to use it.
    Again, please, the studies that conclude the differences? No one has come forth with what had originally been put forth in 1989, 1998 and 1999? I can’t believe there hasn’t been another?

  • http://www.learningwithfood.com Mary McCreery

    I agree with Liam. @Joanna…I read the labels, including ingredient lists & nutritional info.

  • Glen Groth

    As A family farmer I find this ruling unfortunate. I have used rBST on my small herd of dairy cattle for a number of years. My SCC has not increased. rBST itself does not increase the SCC of a herd, but rather amost any practice that increases milk production, everything form fresh spring organic pasture to injection of hormones and feeding corn, has the potential to increase SCC. So naturally, rBST use resulting in increased production, could be the basis of the ruling, but is far form a cause and effect relationship.
    rBST results in less nutritious milk? Nonsense, every dairy farmer knows that cows at the peak of lactation will produce milk with less fat and protein (i.e. nutrition), this doesn’t mena it is less healthy.
    As to the issue of IGF-1, this was only found on one study whose results have never been replicated. Here is the text of an article that describes the IGF-2 issue well.
    “Dr. Terry Etherton is the head of the
    department of dairy and animal sciences
    and a distinguished professor of animal
    nutrition at Penn State. His expertise is the
    entire growth hormone sector.
    Etherton has worked on the public risk
    of somatotropins for nearly 20 years and
    said, without hesitation, “There is no human
    health risk related to (producers) using rbST.”
    He explained to me that rbST causes the
    release of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-
    1), a naturally occurring hormone in both
    dairy cows and humans. However, Etherton
    pointed out that rbST is a protein not
    recognized by human hormone receptors;
    thus, it is referred to as “species specific.”
    Consequently, rbST has no biological
    activity in humans, and the human gut
    actually digests the protein into 191 amino
    acids that have no biological activity.
    This science truly explains how a
    technology used to make today’s food
    system more efficient does not pose any risk
    to my daughters.
    I suggested to Etherton that all the science
    in world won’t put the average parent at ease
    unless we find a way to explain things in a
    way that everyone can relate.
    Our saliva naturally contains IGF-1. You
    would have to consume of 100 quarts of milk
    in a day from rbST-treated cows to equal
    the amount of IGF-1 already present in your
    saliva. In addition to that, IGF-1 levels in milk
    from rbST-treated and non-treated cows are
    the same.
    The highest level of IGF-1 in cow’s milk is
    about 15 ng/mL. Human breast milk has up
    to 18 ng/mL of IGF-1. I doubt God provided
    mothers with a level of this essential growth
    factor that would be toxic to their babies.
    Opponents argue that accelerated
    levels of IGF-1 promote cancer cell growth.
    Undoubtedly, a nation that doesn’t understand
    basic science could be alarmed by this fact”
    Feel free to contact me personally with any other dairy farming questions : ridgerunner121 @ hotmail.com

  • Joanna

    @Mary – precisely my point. This new development will go back to allowing inaccurate labels.

  • Larry

    Such court rules are unfortunate because 1) the further confuse consumers by creating the perception of differences in foods that cannot be supported scientifically, and 2) it sets up future agricultural advances for failure because it implies (to the public) that such advances are something to be feared.
    I always tell (non-farming folks) that farmers will produce the foods that people will buy, but just don’t complain that farmers are getting rich when food prices rise. Court rulings such as this one surely put us on a path of increasing food prices because they deter the use of technologies that increase production efficiency. I think the public believes they can “have their cake and eat it to” when it comes to rejection of modern food production methods and food prices. I don’t think they’ll understand this until their groceries bills rise substantially…

  • Alyssa

    Increases in IGF-1 and somatic cell count cannot be definitively tied to use of rBST alone. In fact, they are most commonly influenced by environmental factors (e.g. temperature) than anything else and therefore cannot be effectively used to compare milk from rBST or not treated cows, the factors are confounded by other variables.
    The most notable hormone involved in sexual maturity of girls is estrogen. The most basic pre-cursors to this hormone are derived from fat, namely cholesterol. This is why percent body fat controls onset of puberty (which is strongly correlated with intake of calories and fat), not the presence of hormones in the diet. There is substantially more estrogen in comparable servings of spinach than milk.

  • gvdocbob

    Basic science. BST is in all milk (does not matter if it is natural or recombinant). BST is a protein. Whole proteins cannot be absorbed from the intestinal tract. Proteins must be broken down into small chains of amino acids called peptides. These are then small enough to be transported across the barrier from the intestinal tract into the blood stream. Therefore, BST cannot be absorbed through oral ingestion. If it could be absorbed orally, it would be given orally instead of through injections (ask baseball players who use HGH). And yes, I am a doctor, so I understand how this works. To summarize, the use of BST is not causing increased absorption by children and is also not causing early puberty, faster growth, etc.

  • Barb

    As a dairy farmer who choses to use rBst in our herd, I think it is most important that consumers know that we did not make the decision to use rBst easily. In fact it took 2 years and a couple of University of MN professors telling us that it would be a good choice for a well managed herd. We heard the same things: it will increase SCC and make cows sick and skinny. Once we did start using rBst we had no increase in SCC, in fact with hard work and dedication we have lowered it even further. We take great pride in caring for our cows as does every dairy farmer, rBst user or not. It has been beneficial to us and to cows that don’t get pregnant right away (insuring her place in the herd). I have long advocated that the best way to sell or market something is to scare a mom. I would never give my children anything that would be detrimental to their health. I also believe the best way to find out about what is going on with the safest food supply in the world is to call a farmer, make an appointment and go out to a farm and find out what is happening.

  • http://www.kellytwins.com Bridget Kelly

    Yah~regardless, as I consumer I am entitled to KNOW the process by which food products come to market in the same way I am entitled to view the ingredients and the nutritional labels. So, if there is no harm and no difference (which I don’t believe), then let the labels transparently divulge all relevant information so that I make my own choices. Buyer beware.

  • Jon W

    Glen and Joanna:
    The entire argument over composition is irrelevant. I don’t want dairy products from chemically treated animals. As the consumer, I have a right to know this information. And that is that.

  • HouseSparrow

    As a consumer I prefer to make my own decisions. I am not stupid and I will draw my own conclusions. I prefer to eat food that not been messed with too much. Therefore I ask that my food to be labeled as to how it was produced and what it contains. It is my body, it should be my choice!!!
    If there is no problem, then why the fear of labeling it appropriately?
    Let me make the choice!!!

  • Joanna

    @Bridget, @Jon, @HouseSparrow
    Not saying the label should not be there. It should. Make no mistake. But it should be correct and accurate for your sake, for my sake and for everyone’s benefit, as consumers, as citizens.

  • Anonymous

    The FDA is an fing JOKE.

  • Scott

    @HouseSparrow et al,
    You are sorely mistaken if you think you can get enough information to make a perfectly educated decision simply from a food label. The “organic” product you purchase could have been fertilized with who knows what, watered with water from a contaminated well, the list goes on. Then you’ve got unfounded claims on labels to deal with.
    I am not sure when the modern farmer became the bogeyman that no one has any interest in listening to, but it surely was a dark day in our history.

  • maria

    Joanna,
    the bottom line is, I don’t want cows injected with hormones or antibiotics or any other milk inducing chemicals. As a consumer, I go out of my way to support the farmers who adhere to an organic sustainable way to nurture their livestock. If we treat our cows well, they will return the favor, in my mind. We have forgotten how to take care of living things & our meddling and lack of respect, in my opinion, that is, may be leading to a collapse in our agriculture system. In the name of “providing enough food for the growing population” we may be losing something much more important. Farmers have all my respect, since I depend on them every day to put food on the table. Until I am able to grow my own, I will support the whole foods, organic farmers. They are working hard to restore the balance of land and farm, and again, in my opinion, if all farmers followed suit, their job would be a heck of a lot easier to ensure our future generations can continue enjoying real food instead of the chemical laden, genetically modified, cloned stuff that the government plans to pass off as such.

  • Joanna

    @maria Thank you for your support of farmers. You mention an old adage that I learned from another dairy farmer a long time ago: “If you take care of the cows, they will take care of you.” At my farm, we certainly have not forgotten how to take care of living things.
    To clarify – antibiotics are not used to “induce” milk. They are used when a cow gets sick. Hopefully few and far between.
    Now, with respect to being organic – I am not a certified organic farmer. The main reason we refuse is because I want every resource available if any one of my 25 cows gets sick – just like a parent might if a child gets sick or even if I get sick. So, if using an antibiotic means I’m going to save one of my girls, then so be it. If she is in milk, her milk is withheld from the tank until all traces of the anitbiotic are gone from it. If any minute trace shows up in the milk, I risk losing my ability to sell milk and thus, part of my family’s livelihood.
    Otherwise, technically, we are about as “organic” as they come. We graze our herd. We try to manage so that we can continue our family’s farm using its resources in the best way we can, with attention to safe, conservative practices. We’re in it for the long run, and someday may even have our own next generation to hand it down to and so preservation is the foundation for all that we do. Why would we treat it otherwise?

  • Law Student

    While reading the court opinion I was immediately shocked at how quickly the court discarded the evidence demonstrating that there is no compositional difference between milk produced by treated and untreated cows. It makes the weak argument that since there is no way to test that rbST is in the milk of treated cows, it is therefore unconstitutional to ban labeling the milk as “rbST Free.”
    I’m all for labeling products, but there is such a thing as “information overload.” At some point, a label can contain so much information that it loses it’s usefulness. It becomes the “fine print” that you don’t ever read. This concern is worse when people label products with useless information. Yes, I believe a person has the right to decide not to drink milk produced by treated cows—and they can exercise that right by doing their own research. It seems to me the whole “rbST Free” label is meant merely for a competitive economic gain, taking advantage of our new 21st century fad of “organic food.” While organic food has benefits, those benefits must be demonstrated with evidence; otherwise, you’re being scammed into paying higher prices for no benefit at all.
    This reminds me of the whole Acai berry scams and other “organic remedies” that have no proven benefit.
    @Joanna, Your comments are the most sincere and well-informed on this site. I think the analogy in your last comment is particularly awesome. It just makes plain sense that a dairy-farmer would take care of his or her cows by treating them with medicine. In fact, I’d be worried about drinking milk from a farmer who didn’t take as much care of his cows merely for the sake of keeping the milk “hormone free”.
    Ugh! I feel frustrated by people being so quick to denounce science without first making a goodfaith attempt at understanding it, or even inquiring. It is sooo much better to remain agnostic to issues we have no knowledge about. I’m sure very few people have any qualifications to believe that rbST is a bad thing or to even know what recombinant bovine somatotropin is.
    Perhaps all milk labels should indicate that the milk contains bST, and the name of every specific protein, and perhaps the chemical formula, and maybe the fact that it comes from a cow, and that the color of the milk is white. I have a right to not drink milk that isn’t white.
    Siighh… forgive me for my sarcasm. I’m having to do a report of this case, and I’ve been working on it for a while, and I’m so tired. hahah.

  • SarahK

    @Joanna: Thank you very much for your contributions to this discussion. I feel that I’ve learned a lot from what you have to say. Like Maria, I have nothing but respect for farmers, but prefer to support those who use organic principles, whether or not they are certified organic. If what you are saying about labeling is that “milk from cows not treated with rBST” would be more accurate, I have no problem with that. In fact, in light of the discussion, I would prefer it to “rBST free.” However milk is labeled, though, I prefer to buy it from cows who have not had their production increased through the use of medicine, and who are not treated with antibiotics necessitated by overcrowding. I believe that I should have the right to choose for myself what products I will purchase.

  • SarahK

    @Larry: I am fully prepared to pay higher prices for food that is more time-consuming or labor-intensive to produce. You get what you pay for. Cheap food is not the bargain most people think it is.

  • SarahK

    @Glen: You make a lot of good points, but how can you argue that labels should not be allowed to reflect accurate information about food production? If you want to say that rBST is not relevant, then educate people about your product and why it is as good. Unfortunately, you will never convince me that milk treated with rBST is what I want, for myself, or for my children. Regardless of what you or any experts say about it, I prefer to be able to find milk from cows that have not been treated. I feel it is a severe abridgment of my rights as a consumer to be denied information about the products I purchase.

  • Law Student

    @SarahK: I think I agree with you, but only in part. Ohio’s government did NOT ban labeling milk to reflect that it did not come from treated cows. It only banned specific terms like “Hormone free” which Ohio found misleading since all milk contains hormones. It also banned “rbST free” labels. But it explicitly grants the right to label milk like this: “This milk is from cows not supplemented with rbST” so long as the label also included a statement saying, “The FDA has found no significant difference between milk from treated and untreated cows.”
    The reason this case went to court was because some dairy-processors believed they had a First Amendment “free speech” right to label milk however they wanted. This case wasn’t about guaranteeing citizens the right to useful labeling information since Ohio law already required dairy farmers to provide that information. This case was more about the desire of certain dairy-processors–who don’t use antibiotics and rbST–to gain a competitive advantage by implying their milk is superior and worth its expensive price, when in fact, there is no significant difference at all.
    I believe the state of Ohio has the right to regulate how businesses within that state label products. I believe each citizen should have the right to know how the product they buy is made. I do NOT believe that a dairy-processor has a right to label milk products in such a way as to mislead people into thinking it’s more expensive product is superior, just to gain an (unfair?) economic advantage.
    If Company A labeled its milk, “Arsenic free!” and Company B didn’t have such a label, most people would buy Company A’s “Arsenic free!” milk, even though none of the milk from either company has arsenic. The bad inference drawn from this is that Company B’s milk must contain arsenic. This is wrong, and that is what this case was about; the court’s decision in this case makes drawing this bad and unfair inference more likely.

  • Doc Mudd

    Maybe it’s about time to affix warning labels to ignorant people…oh, wait, that’s already been suggested…
    http://www.snopes.com/humor/jokes/heresign.asp
    Hey, fearmongers and food label advocates…here’s your sign. Be mindful you don’t lose it.

  • Joanna

    @Law Student – Thank you so much. I’m glad you appreciated what I had to say. And thank you too for your information as well! I found your perspective very interesting and helpful in digging up more info about what was in the ruling. I hope more people can make their own conclusions as you have.
    And the bad inference thing is what hurts the most! In the past there was no good way to get our voices heard. Now, today, I’m glad I could at least share my thoughts here and you were able to read them/see them and make your own conclusions.
    Now on to saving the planet… :)

  • SarahK

    @LawStudent: Thank you very much for clarifying. It is really amazing to me how difficult it is to get accurate and unbiased information about events, let alone a level of detail that can provide insight into a situation. I also think it’s interesting, though, that no matter how you spin it, the original ruling was made to protect the commercial interests of producers who use rBST. I’m not sure I think it’s an appropriate use of the regulatory mechanism.

  • Joanna

    Hmmm @SarahK a good point – seems like it is hard to find unbiased sources. I mean I’m a dairy producer. But I am glad you brought up commercial interests. Have you had a chance to look up what the premium is for a half gallon of milk from cows that are not given rBST to that which does not have a label indicating as such and compared it to what happens on the farm level? What commercial interests are we protecting now?
    Oh, and no matter how you spin it, I am a producer and a consumer too; and on top of that a citizen as well. Thus I am afforded the same kind of protection under the Constitution that everyone else is. So, from a regulatory standpoint, we can do better than this ruling in making sure we have fair and equitable treatment under the law.

  • Joanna

    If this is a repeat comment, forgive me. I did not see my response from last night.
    @SarahK Good point – tough to find unbiased opinions, I think because like my dad always said (who is a minister) – there are three sides to every story. I myself am a dairy farmer, a milk producer, and thus I have my own bias.
    I’m glad you brought up the issue of commercial interests. Do you know what the difference or premium is of a half-gallon of milk from cows not given rBST over that of cows that have not at a retail store? Do you know what portion of that premium flows back to the farmer who is by and large been forced to not use it? That is, if they still do get a premium on the farm…
    So no matter what way you spin it, I am a producer but I am also a consumer AND a citizen, thus am entitled to fair and equitable treatment by the Constitution and am afforded that protection under the law – so yes, in my opinion a most appropriate use of our regulatory system.

  • Law Student

    @SarahK and @Joanna: There’s one other thing that is ironic and interesting about all this. The International Dairy Farmer Association (IFDA), the same plaintiffs who got the court to strike down the Ohio ban on “rbST free” labels, also brought suit in Vermont back in the 90s asking the court to strike down Vermont’s law that REQUIRED dairy producers to label their milk as “From cows treated with rbST” whenever they used rbST. And, of course, they won. They’ve gotten cake and they gotten to eat it, with a tall glass of milk…lol.
    The same plaintiff, IFDA, requesting two opposite things. The only explanation I can think of is that being “Organic” wasn’t as trendy back in the 90s as it is today. Using rbST made milk cheaper and sent smaller dairy farmers out of business back then, I assume. But today, the “organic” fad allows some dairy farmers to sell milk at higher prices without having to buy rbST to treat their cows.
    Even scarier is that a dairy farmer could still use rbST and then misleadingly label his or her milk, “rbST free”… and no one would know the difference! That’s because there is no way to scientifically test any difference.
    bST, as opposed to rbST occurs naturally in cows. The two hormones differ by only 1 polypeptide. Currently, scientists have been able to recreate naturally occurring bST, but it’s not commercially available. But once it does, injecting a cow with bST will have the same results: more milk. It also means more bST in the milk you drink.

  • Law Student

    @SarahK: With regards to the inappropriate use of a regulatory system, I agree with you. But I also would like to add that the misuse of that system comes from people you’d least expect. The International Dairy Farmer Association (IFDA) which got the court to overturn Ohio’s ban on “rBST free” labels, also got the court to overturn Vermont’s law which required milk from rBST-treated cows to be labeled: “From cows treated with rBST”. This happened back in 1996, back when it was more profitable to use rBST because (1) the FDA approved it as safe, and (2) because it produced more milk, which means more profits. But since 2006, the “organic foods” movement (or “fad”) has made it more profitable to sell milk as “rBST free” since people think it’s more healthy, and of course, the IDFA has everything to gain by marketing milk as such.
    Worth noting is that there is no way to distinguish between milk from treated and untreated cows. A farmer who uses rBST can market his milk as “rBST free” and no one would ever know the difference.

  • Joanna

    @LawStudent: Good info, but just one thing… I think you refer to IDFA, which is the International Dairy Foods Association, representing the processors & manufacturers of dairy foods, not the farmers. A comprable organization for farmers would be NMPF – National Milk Producers Federation.
    So I’m not sure I think this is ironic if I’m reading what the 90s stuff was about correctly – IDFA doesn’t want the label to be so stringent – not to have to say “From cows treated with rBST” either time.
    The other piece your missing is the economics and you’re a law student so it’s okay (jk! LOL) – rBST actually may have saved a lot of small farms from going out of business if they used it appropriately by allowing for more milk production without having to expand or put on more cows. The margin was there. On the flip side, many see organic as a saving grace with its the lucrative label, but that comes with higher grain and other costs so the margin may not be there either.
    I’d be interested in reading the stuff you found from the 90′s. Can you share a link?
    I don’t believe that treating cows with rBST makes them produce more BST in their milk, but rather more milk altogether.
    And oh by the way, no way to test if milk is organic or not either. Guess in either case you just have to at some point take someone’s word for it. In our case, we have to sign off that says we promise not to use rBST – not necessarily by choice but there aren’t very many milk buyers left out there.

  • SarahK

    @Joanna: I am very fortunate to live in an area of the country where I can buy milk from a local dairy that provides both organic and non-organic milk. This dairy provides milk to Whole Foods as well as several market chains in the area, so I believe that their business is doing well. When they say that none of their cows are treated with rBST, I believe them. This particular company has received numerous commendations for their quality control and humane treatment of their animals. On the other hand, you could not pay me to consume Horizon milk, even though I believe it also is organic and produced from cows untreated with rBST. All consumption is at some level an act of faith on the part of the consumer — I understand that. However, I prefer to put my trust in someone who at least has the intelligence to acknowledge my concerns rather than try to tell me they are unwarranted. It might be interesting to consider this labeling flap with recent concern over transfats. There is no movement on the part of food producers whose food contains transfats to prevent producers of transfat free foods from labeling it as such. And for years, scientists would have told you that transfats were no more hazardous to your health than any other saturated fat, although I believe that claim has come under considerable criticism lately. I see no reason whatsoever to believe that milk from cows treated with rBST is as healthful as milk from cows who have not been, and I know there are many dairy producers who feel the same way. I further believe that many of the financial issues you bring up have much more to do with introduction of economies of scale into food production, which necessarily puts a squeeze on small producers, as well as adversely impacting quality. Instead of telling me I shouldn’t care about rBST, you should be looking to distribute your milk through better channels, allowing you a decent profit margin. Honestly, it is the greedy middleman who is your enemy, not the conservative consumer who prefers transparency in labeling.

  • Joanna

    @SarahK Thanks again for your thoughts. I do appreciate them.
    I think you and I agree that the milk should be labeled properly. My stance here is that it should be accurate. Put another way – all milk is “antibiotic free”, “rgBH free” and “rBST free.” Perhaps we should consider that ALL milk be labeled as such.
    Not having it so in my opinion takes advantage the lack of understanding by an average consumer and of dairy producers in general.