(Beyond Pesticides, November 20, 2007) According to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, as of January 1, 2008, dairy products with labels such as “growth-hormone free” will be illegal in the state. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Dennis Wolff announced the decision last month after convening a 22-member Food Labeling Advisory Committee to look into false or misleading claims in “absence labeling.”The ruling covers all dairy products sold in the state, forcing some out-of-state manufacturers, in effect, to make Pennsylvania-only packaging. So far, the state Department of Agriculture has notified 19 companies that their labels must change. Of the three principal types of labeling affected by the ruling, getting rid of “growth-hormone free” milk labels has proven most controversial.The PA Department of Agriculture explained its decision in a statement on its website, “[S]ome milk labels contain statements such as ”˜hormone-free,’ but all milk contains hormones. Some labels also claim the absence of synthetic hormones, but there is no scientific test that can determine the truth of this claim.” Organic labeling, Mr. Wolff said, involves a certification process that includes surprise audits, so the department does not currently intend to interfere with it.
Some food safety advocates believe that Monsanto, the company that produces recombinant bovine growth hormone- rBGH or rBST- heavily influenced the state’s decision. Rick North, of the Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, a leading critic of the artificial growth hormone, told the Associated Press that the Pennsylvania rules amounted to censorship. “This is a clear example of Monsanto’s influence,” he said.
Recombinant bovine growth hormone increases milk production by 15 percent, but causes an increase in udder infections in cows, and some studies have shown a correlation between certain types of cancer in humans and elevated levels of insulin growth factor, which is present in rBST-fueled milk. Canada, Japan, Australia and the European Union, have not approved the use of rBST because of health concerns.
Chuck Turner Jr., of Turner Dairy Farms in Penn Hills, PA told the Post-Gazette that rBST-free milk makes good business sense. Consumers pay an average of 25 percent more for milk labeled rBST-free. “There’s a certain customer segment out there that is interested in cows not being injected with this Monsanto stuff,” Mr. Turner said. “There’s nobody saying, ‘Give me milk with growth hormones.’ That’s the way we saw it.”
Environmentalists encourage consumers to buy organic milk and for local diaries to convert to organic methods. Organic certification ensures that consumers are drinking milk free of synthetic hormones and pesticides. The Pennsylvania ban only applies to milk labels. Advertisements may still make hormone-free claims.