by Marion Nestle
Oct 2 2010

District court says Ohio can label milk rBGH-free

The Center for Food Safety reports that a Federal Appeals Court has overturned an Ohio state ban on label statements such as “rbGH Free,” “rbST Free” and “artificial hormone free” on milk from cows that have not been treated with genetically modified bovine growth hormone (a.k.a. bovine somatotropin, or rbST).

In ruling on the case, IDFA et al v. Boggs, the court said:

The district court held that the composition claims were inherently misleading because “they imply a compositional difference between those products that are produced with rb[ST] and those that are not,” in contravention of the FDA’s finding that there is no measurable compositional difference between the two.

This conclusion is belied by the record, however, which shows that, contrary to the district court’s assertion, a compositional difference does exist between milk from untreated cows and conventional milk (“conventional milk,” as used throughout this opinion, refers to milk from cows treated with rbST). As detailed by the amici parties seeking to strike down the Rule, the use of rbST in milk production has been shown to elevate the levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), a naturally-occurring hormone that in high levels is linked to several types of cancers, among other things. The amici also point to certain studies indicating that rbST use induces an unnatural period of milk production during a cow’s “negative energy phase.” According to these studies, milk produced during this stage is considered to be low quality due to its increased fat content and its decreased level of proteins.

The amici further note that milk from treated cows contains higher somatic cell counts, which makes the milk turn sour more quickly and is another indicator of poor milk quality. This evidence precludes us from agreeing with the district court’s conclusion that there is no compositional difference between the two types of milk.

The court also said:

Like composition claims, production claims such as “this milk is from cows not supplemented with rbST” are potentially misleading because they imply that conventional milk is inferior or unsafe in some way. But neither the FDA nor any study has conclusively shown that to be the case.

Want to bet that this one goes to the Supreme Court?

  • Clear, voluntary labelling is a good thing. In this case, it’s worth noting that the US’s close next-door neighbour (and 2nd biggest trading partner), Canada (where I live) doesn’t allow rbST. That’s one more indication (not air-tight, but suggestive) that it’s not misleading to put the “rbST-free” label on milk.

  • Seems to me we’re going about this all wrong.

    Instead of labeling foods that are free of something that would already be free of it in their natural state, we need to start labeling those that are modified or altered.

    Instead of calling something “rBGH Free” we should label the other stuff “made with cows treated with rBGH” or the like.

  • Joe D

    I guess Monsanto cannot own every district court. But, they have not lost yet. Wow, maybe even labeling for GMO (vs not) could be considered by our great corporatocracy.

  • Meathead

    I am interested inlearning more, specifically who the amici were and their research. Can you help?

  • Anthro

    I don’t reject rbST treated milk because I think it is “inferior” or “superior” to untreated milk. My concern is for the cows whose suffering is increased by these treatments. The only purpose of these treatments is to make cows produce more milk and thus increase profits–not for the family dairy farm, but for huge mega-dairies that already treat living, breathing creatures as if they are crops to be “managed”.

    It is discouraging to me that these labeling arguments only revolve around what may or may not be best for humans with little or no regard for the animals or for the right of consumers to be informed.

    We got rid of this stuff a long time ago here in Wisconsin and I had hoped the rest of the country would follow.

  • There are some posts you read that make you want to jump through your computer screen and for me this was one of them. I still can’t wrap my brain around the fact that “conventional” now means treated with hormones. I agree with Andrew, the commenter above, that this should need to be labeled. My second major gripe is the use of “compositional” as though every problem or issue with processing is able to be identified immediately or not a problem.

  • Bobby

    full disclosure = transparency = let the consumer decide.

    What part of “why are you hiding your hormone use in dairy cows?” do you think makes us very, very suspicious? We talkin’ to you, dairy farmers and the giant chemical corporations providing your “productivity” inputs. You ad campaigns promoting the natural goodness of milk sure looks suspicious to me, and millions of other dairy customers who just want untainted foods free of artificial ingredients of ANY kind. You want to produce cheaper milk than the cow can provide without artificial hormone inputs? Just label it and let us decide if we want to buy it. Because, you know, the customer has to have a say in what goes in to our food, which we put into our bodies.

    And, by the way, a desire for healthy and ethical food production isn’t a socialist plot to undermine american enterprise.

  • MA

    Let’s hope this opens the door wider for labeling of all GMOs. I agree that we should be labeling all the stuff that isn’t offered in it’s God-given form, but I’ll take labeling that effectively says “we didn’t screw with this food in any way.” Consumers have the right to decide for themselves, preferable without having to spend hours doing research before deciding what to buy (as I have done on several occasions).

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  • Cathy Richards

    @MA – love your label suggestion. Here’s another: “This food has not been FUBAR’d”

    And @Bobby — can you share your wise words and tell my Dad that I’m NOT a socialist just because I disagree with many current corporate food system practices? Thanks. That will help me survive a nicer Christmas with them. 🙂

  • Its amazing ow fearful big corporations become once the consumer stops trusting them blindly. Keep fighting my friends.

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  • Sam

    This should never have had to go to court in the first place. If it is rBGH free, than the company should be able to put it on the label and the consumer should know exactly what they are buying and have the choice.

    The same thing is going to happen with non-GMO label foods probably. If all of these foods are so safe, why is there such a fight with them to have our food labeled honestly in the US.

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