Organic Consumers Association

Maine Dairy Caves In to Pressure from Monsanto on rBGH-Free Labeling

Bangor Daily News (Maine)

By Sharon Kiley Mack, Of the NEWS Staff
Last updated: Thursday, December 25, 2003

Oakhurst reaches settlement on label
Dairy, chemical company avoid trial

PORTLAND - Monsanto of St. Louis and Oakhurst Dairy of Portland on Wednesday
signed an agreement that will change the way the Maine dairy labels its milk
products. It also could set a precedent that could change the way dairies
across the country label their milk.Monsanto filed a lawsuit in July over
Oakhurst's labeling and marketing of its milk. Monsanto's lawsuit said
Oakhurst's claim that its farmers don't use artificial growth hormones in
their milk production is misleading and implies that something is wrong with
growth hormones. Monsanto is the sole manufacturer of those hormones.

The dispute between the multinational chemical giant and the small Portland
dairy has drawn national attention to the issue of growth hormones and dairy
product labeling. The suit had been scheduled to go to trial Jan. 5 in
federal court.

After Monsanto filed the lawsuit, Oakhurst Dairy President Stanley Bennett
vowed to not give in to Monsanto's demands.

At the time, he said he was in the business of selling milk, "not marketing
Monsanto's drugs."

Oakhurst milk jugs on store shelves today state: "Our Farmers' Pledge: No
Artificial Growth Hormones." The word "used" will be added to the pledge as
per the agreement.

Also to be added to the label in small lettering at the bottom will be the
words: "FDA states: No significant difference in milk from cows treated with
artificial growth hormones."

The Food and Drug Administration recommends the additional wording but does
not require it.

Official statements from both companies said the agreement was reached to
"give consumers information they want and need" regarding the controversy
surrounding the use of synthetic, genetically engineered recombinant bovine
growth hormone, or rBGH, which Monsanto markets as Prosilac.

But opponents of rBGH were critical of the settlement and said it has
greater consequences for consumers and producers.

Leslie Cummins of Co-op Voices Unite, based in Blue Hill, said Wednesday,
"This settlement will kill labeling. It is so unbelievably undemocratic."

Cummins said because the two companies were forced to conduct their talks in
a confidential manner, "There was never really a good dialogue with the
public. There are other scientific views [on rBGH] besides the USDA [U.S.
Department of Agriculture ] point of view. The public wanted to know and was

Former state legislator John Nutting, also a dairy farmer from Leeds, said
the implications of the settlement may be far-reaching. "Who's next?" he
asked. "Will organic farmers have to put a disclaimer on their carrots? Or
will free-range chicken have a disclaimer? This could spread to many other

Nutting said that many food groups have been closely watching the
Oakhurst-Monsanto issue since Monsanto claimed the label was misleading and
damaging to their company.

The dispute centered on consumers' perception of rBGH, which is injected
into cows every two weeks to increase their milk production. About one-third
of the United States' 9 million dairy cows are given the hormone.

The FDA says milk produced by rBGH-injected cows is indistinguishable from
milk from cows that are not treated and poses no health risks to humans or

Opponents of rBGH say there is no consensus in the international scientific
community over its safety and point out that it is banned in Canada and
Europe. They also say it is harmful to cows, and that the use of rBGH poses
a threat to family farms.

Last Friday, Monsanto announced it only would be supplying farmers with 85
percent of their normal supply of Prosilac, citing its inability to meet an
increased demand for the hormone. It is expected that this decrease in rBGH
will dramatically affect the oversupply of milk in this country and may
advantageously affect milk prices, which dropped this month.

Farmers in Maine and across the country have been getting below-production
prices for their milk for two years, causing a crisis within the industry.

Settlement talks had been under way for two weeks after Monsanto requested
the trial set for January in federal court in Boston be held off to allow
talks to proceed.

The joint statement released Wednesday further stated: "The agreement
addresses Oakhurst's goal to inform consumers that its farmers pledge not to
give artificial growth hormone to their cows. The agreement also addresses
Monsanto's goal that additional information be presented to consumers so
that they understand that the FDA states there is no significant difference
in milk from cows treated with artificial growth hormone."

Cummins said, "A lot of dairies across the country refuse to use [milk from
cows treated with rBGH]. I think they'll be afraid to advertise that fact
now. Monsanto will be able to go after these dairies one by one."

The Associated Press contributed to this story. For more information, check
the Internet at Oakhurst Dairy: and Monsanto Co.:


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