Battle over rBGH-free labeling continues in US states

In a setback to Monsanto and supporters of its genetically engineered bovine growth hormone, rBGH, Pennsylvania and Indiana refused to pass laws prohibiting dairy manufacturers from labeling their products rBGH-free, while Ohio has put restrictions on such labeling. Meanwhile, Kansas recently introduced a bill banning the labels.

Ohio restricts rBGH-free labels
In February, Pennsylvania rescinded a controversial law banning rBGH-free labels following a massive backlash from dairy companies and consumer advocates.

Also in February, Ohio passed a law that allows labels on dairy products if they are production-related claims, but prohibits compositional claims. The terms rBGH-free or rbST-free, which are compositional claims, are prohibited. A press release issued by the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) said the agency would approve labels if a production-related claim that the milk is derived “from cows not supplemented with rbST” is verifiable.

The claim must also include the FDA-approved disclaimer stating, “no significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rbST-supplemented and non-rbST-supplemented cows.”

Rick North, project director, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, says ODA’s restriction to a production-related claim goes too far. “Their reasoning is that any label claim not verified by a lab test is misleading,” he says. “What about label claims stating country or state of origin, organic, or even whiskey that’s aged a certain amount of years? These aren’t verified by a lab test. Are they misleading?”

Indiana bill stopped
In Indiana, state representative William Friend introduced House Bill 1300 in January, another bill that would have banned rBGH-free labeling in the state.

In an interview with, Rep. Friend said he introduced the bill based on input from dairy farmers in his district who wanted to continue using the hormone.

rBGH is injected into cows to increase milk production. While approved by the FDA, the hormone is banned in Canada and the European Union because of health risks to cows. Consumer advocates also say rBGH increases levels of IGF-1, a hormone that’s been linked to prostate and colon cancer.

After the bill was introduced, consumer advocates delivered a petition with more than 70 organizations and businesses expressing opposition to the bill.

The bill passed the House Agriculture Committee 10-0, but Friend declined to bring it to the House floor for a vote because he didn’t have the votes to pass it.

North says the bill may not be completely dead. “We’re keeping an eye on the bill; it could reappear.”

Kansas SB 595
In Kansas, another bill to limit consumer awareness of rBGH, Senate Bill 595, was introduced into the state’s legislature in mid-February. Like similar state bills, SB 595 considers any “compositional claim that cannot be confirmed through laboratory analysis” to be misleading.

Language in all the bills is very similar. For example, the Indiana bill states that a label is misleading if it contains “a compositional claim that cannot be confirmed through laboratory analysis; or compositional or production-related claim that is supported solely by sworn statements, affidavits, or testimonials.” Language in the Kansas bill was nearly identical, word for word.

Monsanto behind efforts to ban rBGH-free labels
The similar language indicates a coordinated national effort to restrict rBGH-free labeling. “There is no question that Monsanto is behind these efforts,” says North.

Last year, Monsanto asked the FDA and Federal Trade Commission to crack down on the labels; the agencies refused so the biotech giant decided to push their agenda at the state level.

North says Monsanto paid expenses for Terry Etherton, Pennsylvania State University professor of animal nutrition, so he could travel to speak to farmers and encourage them to support the bills.

In addition, a public relations firm that works for Monsanto is behind a new organization, American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology (AFACT). AFACT’s website was registered to Susan Williams of Osborn & Barr Communications, a brand management company whose clients include Monsanto.

© Copyright The Organic & Non-GMO Report March 2008.