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The Organic Trade Association (OTA) and the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) have gone to court to challenge labeling rules imposed by the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

According to a statement released by OTA, they are “challenging as unconstitutional an ‘emergency’ rule seeking to prevent labeling that tells a consumer whether the cows were treated with rBST, the synthetic growth hormone manufactured and sold by Monsanto under the brand Posilac. The lawsuit represents a determined effort not only to protect the consumer’s rights to receive truthful information about how organic milk and dairy products are produced, but also to protect the rights of organic dairy farmers and processors to communicate truthfully with consumers.”

Forbes reports that “the Ohio rule, adopted in May and scheduled to begin Sept. 19, says any dairy producer that advertises its milk as hormone-free must place a disclaimer next to the label that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has found no significant difference between milk coming from cows treated with the hormone and those that are not. The disclaimer must be in seven-point size and in the same font, case and color, the rule states.”

The statement goes on: “The federally mandated USDA National Organic Standards prohibit the use of hormones to promote growth or increase production, genetically engineered organisms (GMOS), antibiotics and toxic, persistent pesticides and have a rigorous system for inspection, certification and verification which protects consumers from false claims. In issuing its rule prohibiting organic products from being labeled ‘produced with milk from cows that have not been treated with synthetic growth hormones’, the State of Ohio, however, has essentially chosen not to recognize the federal Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA).”

Ohio officials have defended their rule as legal and appropriate.

In its statement, OTA blames Monsanto for the dispute, saying that the company was “the driving force behind getting FDA approval for rBST and then turned its substantial resources towards lobbying the Ohio Department of Agriculture for this new ‘emergency’ rule.”

KC's View:
I have to admit to being a little torn on this one. On the one hand, I believe in full transparency – and that means telling both sides and letting the consumer make the decision.

On the other hand, it seems implicit that “organic” means no added hormones or antibiotics…so it doesn’t even matter whether the hormones make a difference in the milk or not. They just ought not be there…because organic is organic is organic.

Seems to me that this debate isn’t really about full disclosure. It is about eating way at the meaning of “organic” wherever and whenever possible. That isn’t a good idea, because it eventually will wreck consumer confidence in what the label means.

It’s interesting. Where I buy my milk, Stew Leonard’s, there long has been a sign saying that its milk contains no added hormones or antibiotics, even though the milk is not advertised as being organic. Stew’s can do that because the company has its own farm, cows and dairy bottling plant – it controls the entire dairy supply chain. As a customer, I’ve never gone out of my way to buy organic milk….but I always have found the Stew Leonard’s sign to be reassuring.