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Organic Consumers Association

Organic Trade Association Appeals Ohio Decision on Dairy Labeling

  • Consumers and organic farmers want truthful messages about the avoidance of synthetic hormones
    Organic Trade Association, June 3, 2009
    Straight to the Source

GREENFIELD, Mass. —The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is appealing a Federal District Court ruling upholding Ohio’s regulation that takes away consumers’ rights to receive truthful information on dairy labels concerning the practices used to produce those products. The regulation goes against increasing consumer interest in knowing how their food is produced, and farmers’ rights to accurately communicate their production practices to consumers.

“OTA believes consumers have a right to know how their food was produced, and organic farmers and manufacturers should be allowed to tell them,” said Christine Bushway, executive director of OTA, the leading voice for the $24.6 billion organic industry in North America.

On March 30, 2009, a Federal District Court in Ohio upheld an emergency rule enacted by the Ohio Department of Agriculture that would have required labels to include a disclaimer for dairy products produced from cows not treated with recombinant bovine growth hormone. Subsequently, OTA filed a notice of appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit concerning the order and opinion denying OTA’s motion for a preliminary injunction that would have stopped Ohio’s emergency rule. After receiving OTA’s notice of appeal, the court postponed enforcement of the emergency rule until resolution of the appeal.

In order to qualify for the organic label, organic farmers are prohibited from using synthetic growth hormones (rBGH), genetically engineered organisms (GMOS), antibiotics and toxic, persistent, synthetic pesticides. The standards also mandate a rigorous system for inspection, certification and verification of organic practices, all of which protect consumers who choose organic products.

“Even though the court’s decision upholds a restriction on consumers’ right to know where their food comes from and how it is produced, consumers who choose organic dairy products can still be assured that the products have been produced without the use of synthetic growth hormones, antibiotics or toxic, persistent pesticides,” advised Bushway. She noted that the overwhelming majority of Americans wants this information on product labels but will not see truthful information on organic product labels as a result of Ohio’s action. And that is why OTA is appealing.

In April, similar legislation to Ohio’s was vetoed in Kansas by then Governor Kathleen Sebelius, now Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Sebelius vetoed the bill because such dairy labeling would make it more difficult to provide consumers with clear information and negatively impact dairy producers’ ability to inform consumers of production practices they use.

Founded nearly 25 years ago, the Organic Trade Association (OTA) is the membership-based business association for organic agriculture and products in North America. Its members include growers, shippers, processors, certifiers, farmers' associations, distributors, importers, exporters, consultants, retailers and others. OTA's mission is to promote and protect the growth of organic trade to benefit the environment, farmers, the public and the economy (www.ota.com).

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