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More on Monsanto & FDA Attack on rBGH-Free Dairys

From: The Non-GMO Source September 2003
Editor Ken Roseboro
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Monsanto, FDA cracking down on hormone-free milk claims

Monsanto Company's lawsuit against a Maine dairy and recent statements by
the Food and Drug Administration about "misleading" hormone-free labels on
dairy products indicate an effort to further restrict dairy companies'
ability to label their products as being free of a genetically engineered
bovine growth hormone.

In its lawsuit against Oakhurst Dairy, a small family-owned dairy in
Portland, Maine, Monsanto objects to a label on Oakhurst's milk products
that says "Our Farmers' Pledge: No Artificial Growth Hormones." Monsanto
says the label misleads consumers into thinking that milk produced from cows
not treated with Monsanto's recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST)
is superior to milk from cows treated with the GE hormone. In a company
statement, Monsanto says the label fails to "fully disclose years of
scientific evidence that milk from cows supplemented with rBST is the same
as other milk" and runs counter to the FDA's labeling guidelines for
rBGH-free dairy products. According to Monsanto, Oakhurst¹s labeling
practices "directly disparage" rBGH. Monsanto does not seek monetary
compensation, but wants Oakhurst to add the safety claims about rBGH to its
label "so that consumers can make an informed choice."

Consumers want to know

Oakhurst president Stanley Bennett refuses to add the disclaimer, saying it
would be like an advertisement for rBGH. "We're in the business of marketing
milk, not Monsanto's drugs,"says Bennett.

Oakhurst will fight the lawsuit and has asked a federal court judge in
Boston to dismiss it. "We make no claims about whether there are any health
issues involved with growth hormones,"says Bennett. ³We are merely
responding to consumers" request."

Bennett says he has received many requests from consumers who say they don¹t
want milk coming from farms that use artificial hormones. "We have a right
to let consumers know that," he says.

A recent poll by the Portland Press Herald backs Bennett¹s assertion. When
asked, "do you prefer hormone-free milk?"91 percent of respondents said

Joseph Mendelson, legal director at the Center for Food Safety, says the
lawsuit infringes on free speech. "Companies have been granted a right to
free speech," he says. "As long as what they say is truthful on a label,
they can say it."

Mendelson also says Monsanto's claim that milk derived from rBGH-treated
cows is not any different or less safe than conventional milk is not
internationally recognized; the GE hormone has not been approved in Canada
and the European Union due to health safety concerns.

Further labeling restrictions

Monsanto recently complained to the FDA asking the agency to monitor
rBGH-related labeling claims. In a letter to Monsanto, FDA deputy
commissioner Lester Crawford wrote, "We share your concerns"about
"deceptive practices"that mislead consumers about the quality, safety, or
value of milk products from rBGH-treated cows. Crawford said the agency was
exploring labeling practices for milk products to determine if they are
misleading, and may issue warning letters to companies that are "falsely"
marketing milk and dairy products as being free of hormones.

"We are aware that Monsanto has expressed concerns,"says an FDA spokesman.
"We are concerned that labeling is truthful and not misleading. If we
determine if it is false and misleading, we will follow up appropriately."

Such action would mean a tightening of FDA guidelines for labeling rBGH-free
milk products. The agency recommends that labels contain a statement such as
"from cows not treated with rBST"along with a disclaimer, "no significant
difference has been shown between milk derived from rBST-treated and
non-rBST-treated cows."Now the agency apparently wants to restrict use of
the term "hormones." According to the FDA spokesman, the agency objects
because hormones are naturally occurring and found in all milk products.

Monsanto's efforts have been aided by the Hudson Institute, which launched a
"Milk is Milk"campaign that targets "misleading" milk and dairy labels. The
Institute, which has received funding by Monsanto and other agri-chemical
companies and is known for its anti-organic stance, issued press releases,
bumper stickers, and posters and encouraged consumers to report misleading
dairy labels.

"Unwilling to let consumers know rBGH is in their milk"

The labeling crackdown could affect as many as 40 dairy companies
nationwide, including Organic Valley and Horizon Organic Dairy, the two
leading organic dairy producers. Organic Valley's milk products feature a
label that says, "Produced without added hormones, antibiotics, or
pesticides." The label on Horizon Organic Dairy¹s products is similar: ³This
milk was produced without the use of hormones, antibiotics, or pesticides.²
The label appears to be more a general statement about organic standards
than a disparagement of Monsanto¹s GE hormone.

George Siemon, chief executive officer at Organic Valley, sees Monsanto¹s
lawsuit, the FDA's statements, and Hudson Institute's initiative as part of
a larger effort to undermine organic companies. "This is a very
well-coordinated effort to take away our right to use labels consumers want
to see," says Siemon. ³They are misleading consumers because they are
unwilling to let consumers know that rBGH is in their milk."

Further Siemon says, "The labeling burden should be on Monsanto not us
because consumers overwhelmingly don't want hormones in their milk."

Lee Holden, a spokesman for Vermont-based ice cream maker Ben & Jerry¹s,
also says consumers want to know if their products come from rBGH-treated
cows. "Absolutely," he says. "We have talked to hundreds of consumers who
thank us for making the information available."

Ben & Jerry¹s ice cream pints includes a label that says, ³We oppose
recombinant growth hormone. Family farmers who supply our milk and cream
pledge not to treat their cows with rBGH." In small print, the
FDA-recommended disclaimer is added, "The FDA has said no significant
difference has been shown and no test can now distinguish between milk from
rBGH-treated and untreated cows.²

Horizon Organic Dairy, which was recently purchased by Dean Foods, the
largest dairy producer in the U.S., refused to comment on the labeling
controversy. Instead the company released a statement saying, "Horizon
Organic believes it is important for consumers to have the choice of milk
and dairy products produced without the use of growth hormonesŠ Horizon
Organic is committed to providing wholesome, delicious, certified organic
foods produced without the use of growth hormones, antibiotics or dangerous


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