Hearing aims to clear air on labeling of milk

Use of hormone injections to be at heart of Tuesday's public gathering in Topeka

(Hutchinson News, KS)

By Jessica Self

 

Dairy farmer Bob Seiler swears there is no difference in the milk produced by hormone-injected cows and those that aren't.

"It's the same stuff," said Seiler, who uses a growth hormone injection that helps the cattle on his milking operation near Sedgwick produce more milk.

"All milk contains some level of hormones, and to say it doesn't is misleading to consumers."

However, those who don't use the injection - and are labeling their products as such - say they are meeting the demand of consumers who don't want genetically engineered hormones in their milk.

They typically use labels claiming "rbST free" or "hormone free."

Under a proposed regulation by the Kansas Department of Agriculture, those labels would no longer be permitted.

The new rule would let manufacturers label a product as "from cows not supplemented with rbST," or something similar, but it must have an additional label that says "the FDA has determined that no significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rbST-supplemented and non-rbST supplemented cows."

It would also require the processor or manufacturer to verify the claim.

"We want to be able to provide some guidance about what is and what is not acceptable," said Lisa Taylor, spokeswoman for the KDA, which is seeking public comment on the regulation at 10 a.m. Tuesday in Topeka.

"The law, passed in 1951, said it is unlawful to label a dairy product with misleading information, and this is an attempt to have appropriate label claims."

It is not an effort, she says, to limit consumer choice.

But opponents say stricter labeling requirements are unfair and would make it harder for smaller producers to market their products.

"It seems to me they are trying to force those who don't use the hormone to jump through extra hoops," said Dan Nagengast, executive director of Kansas Rural Center. "Consumers are basically rejecting products that contain rbST and by doing this, they (KDA) are trying to make it more acceptable. It seems, however, to be something on its way out. The vast majority of dairy farmers are not using the injection."

More than 80 percent of dairies don't use the hormone, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture survey.

The hormone - rbST, a synthetic variant of the naturally occurring hormone in cattle - was developed by Monsanto and approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1994. The agency states there is no significant difference between milk from rbST-treated cows and cows not injected.

Despite the statement, consumer demand is for milk from cows without the injected hormones, and dairies say they are simply responding to that demand.

Braum's has long advertised rbST-free on the milk cap. In February of this year, Kroger announced all milk processed by their company would be from cows not injected with rbST. Wal-Mart made the same shift in March with its private-label Great Value milk.

Despite the moves by major retailers, dairy farmer Seiler said he is still confident the injection he uses is safe for consumers.

"Those who are labeling their products hormone-free are misleading those who are buying the products," he said. "They are promoting their milk as different, but it is the same product." 11-29-08

 

 

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