Pa. officials rescind ban on ‘hormone-free’ milk labels

Thursday, January 24, 2008

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania officials last week reversed a ban that would have prevented dairies from labeling milk as free from artificial growth hormones.

The decision, announced Jan. 17, was a victory for producers and marketers who said customers wanted to be able to choose milk that comes from cows that have not been treated with synthetic hormones.

The state Agriculture Department now will allow such claims as long as a disclaimer accompanies them, saying no significant difference has been shown between milk from cows treated with artificial growth hormones and other milk.

The state also will require milk producers who use the label to certify that artificial growth hormones were not used so the claims can be checked by the Agriculture Department.

The new standards were issued after a review by the governor’s office. A spokesman for Gov. Ed Rendell said the new rules aim for balance.

“The governor had a broader perspective than the Department of Agriculture and wanted to be sure that the labels were accurate and informative, and served the needs of both consumers and producers,” said spokesman Chuck Ardo.

In a news release, Rendell said, “The public has a right to complete information about how the milk they buy is produced.”

The ban was scheduled to start Feb. 1, but now producers will have until March 1 to submit their new labels to the Agriculture Department, after which the state has a month to determine whether they are appropriate.

Synthetic hormones have boosted production in U.S. cows for more than a decade, and Agriculture Secretary Dennis C. Wolff had argued that calling milk free from artificial hormones inaccurately implied that other milk was unsafe.

“We allow those labels all the time,” said Michael Hansen, a senior scientist with Consumers Union in Yonkers, N.Y. “‘No artificial colors,’ for example, ‘no artificial flavors.’ Those are not considered misleading.”

In a news release, Hansen commended the state for issuing the new rules, calling the move “a victory for free speech, free markets, sustainable farming, and the consumer’s right to know.”

The product rBST, or recombinant bovine somatotropin, is sold by St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. under the brand name Posilac. A company spokesman did not return a phone message seeking comment.

Consumer demand has fueled increasing use of the “rBST-free” or “artificial growth hormone free” labels on milk.

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