The announcement by the Ohio Department of Agriculture to implement new rules on labeling of dairy products produced without the use of artificial hormones (rbST or rBGH) was greeted with mixed reviews by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA). The new rule states that such labels are permitted, but invokes restrictive language in their use.
Under the new rules, a dairy label may contain a production claim that "this milk is from cows not supplemented with rbST" as long as it meets two further conditions. The claim has to be verifiable based on documents such as producer signed affidavits, farm weight tickets, and plant audit trails. The label panel must also include a contextual statement such as "The FDA has determined that no significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rbST-supplemented and non-rbST-supplemented cows." The rule specifies that this contextual statement must be contiguous to the production claim and identical to it in size and font style.
The ODA's decision is significant in that it allows milk to be marketed as coming from cows not injected with artificial growth hormones. "This is important for consumers, who will be able to have choice about the milk they drink and whether it comes from cows not treated with rBGH," says Carol Goland, Executive Director of OEFFA. "But even though consumers' right to know has been successfully defended, this new rule is otherwise extreme in the restrictions it imposes."
The ODA's decision exceeds FDA guidance issued in 1994, when Posilac (trade name of rBGH) was brought to market. The FDA says the use of the contextual statement is voluntary. The FDA also approved label claims such as "rBGH-free," "rbST-free," and "artificial hormone free." "The Ohio Department of Agriculture needs to explain why it believes a label that says 'rBGH-free' is false and misleading when every other state and the FDA accept it as accurate. This, along with dictating what labels have to look like, represents an unprecedented infringement on commercial free speech," says Goland.
Michael Hansen, a senior scientist with Consumers Union, has raised other concerns. "We object to use of the term 'supplemented,' in describing the use of this drug," says Hansen. "The proper term is obviously "treated" as rBGH is a drug that is injected into cows. This is the language the FDA uses, following its legal definition of "dietary supplement" which excludes drugs that are injected," Hansen says.