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State of Maine Supports Dairy Being Sued by Monsanto

Thursday, August 28, 2003
Maine AG steps in to back Oakhurst
By MATT WICKENHEISER, Portland Press Herald Writer
Copyright <http://www.pressherald.com/copyright.shtml> © 2003 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

Maine Attorney General Steven Rowe is officially supporting Oakhurst Dairy in the lawsuit it faces from Monsanto Corp.

In a motion filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Boston, Rowe argues that the case could damage or halt Maine's Quality Trademark agricultural marketing program, which certifies dairies that do not give artificial growth hormones to their cows.

"The program, which encourages the production of milk in Maine without the use of (artificial growth hormones), would effectively be nullified if
(Monsanto's) suit is successful," Rowe wrote in the "friend of the court" motion. "Maine has a strong interest in defending the public policy embodied in the laws establishing its Quality Trademark program."

Rowe also asked that the case be moved from Boston to Maine, an argument made this month by Oakhurst attorney John Ciraldo.

Missouri-based Monsanto Corp. sued Oakhurst in July, saying Oakhurst's claim that its milk doesn't contain artificial growth hormones is essentially misleading. It demands that Oakhurst stop advertising that it doesn't use milk from hormone-treated cows. It also asks that the dairy stop putting labels reading "Our Farmers' Pledge: No Artificial Growth Hormones" on its milk jugs.

On Wednesday, Monsanto spokesman Lee Quarles said his company hadn't yet seen Rowe's motions, though he had seen a copy of the release issued by the Attorney General's Office. The company believes the lawsuit was appropriately filed in Boston, Quarles said.

Oakhurst, which is based in Portland, argues that the case belongs in Portland rather than Boston because only 7 percent of Oakhurst's sales occur in Massachusetts and just 1.5 percent of its marketing dollars are spent there. The case centers on the dairy's advertising practices.

Monsanto says no scientific evidence exists to prove that milk from cows treated with the hormones differs from the milk of untreated cows. It also argues that Oakhurst's "Farmer's Pledge" slogan confuses consumers into staying away from milk from treated cows.

Rowe said in a written statement that he could see "no good legal reason for forcing a dairy to keep secret the fact that its milk comes from cows free of artificial growth hormones."

"I hope (Rowe's motion) will help in the change of venue motion," Ciraldo said, "but more importantly I'm happy to see the state take a formal interest in the lawsuit, because it can have a huge adverse effect on Maine consumers.

"What the state is saying, and what we've been saying, is if Monsanto is successful, there will be no way for a consumer of milk to know if the cows that produce the milk were treated with the artificial growth hormone or not. I think that's a very important issue," Ciraldo said.

Ciraldo said he expects a decision on the change-of-venue motion in early September. A trial date of Jan. 6, 2004, has been set, he said, but that will likely be changed if the case is moved to Maine.

Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the bovine growth hormone, Canada and the European Union have banned it. Some organizations and consumers who oppose the use of growth hormones believe they are linked to breast cancer and premature puberty in children.

Monsanto is the nation's largest producer of the synthetically produced hormone. This isn't the first time Monsanto has had issues with dairy-product labeling in Maine. Earlier this year, Rowe rejected a request by the company that Maine abandon its Quality Trademark program.

Monsanto argued that the seal, adopted in 1994, misleads consumers into thinking that hormone-free milk is superior to milk from cows that get growth hormones - just as it does in the lawsuit against Oakhurst. Both Oakhurst and H.P. Hood use the Maine seal to promote their products.

Attorneys arguing that the seal program be stopped said Maine lacks an adequate system to monitor affidavits it accepts from farmers who pledge not to use the growth hormone.

In addition, they said, the FDA has recommended that any label that says the product is free of artificial hormones should appear in the proper context with accompanying information, such as "no significant difference has been shown between milk derived from (hormone)-treated and non-(hormone)-treated cows."

Quarles, Monsanto's spokesman, said, "We have a simple request in this case
- that Oakhurst's labels comply with the Food and Drug Administration's guidelines.

"If Oakhurst's labels and promotional materials reflect the scientific conclusions as well as its pledge, then consumers will be able to make their choices based on personal preferences - even a preference for milk from cows produced without the use of (artificial hormones)," Quarles said.

Staff Writer Matt Wickenheiser can be contacted at 791- 6316 or at:

mwickenheiser@pressherald.com

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