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New dairy labels withstand initial challenge
Buckeye Farm News
A district court judge has upheld most of the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s (ODA) new rules for dairy labels.
The rules were developed due to concerns that some labels were confusing consumers about the synthetic hormone rBST, which can be given to cows to boost milk production.
The Organic Trade Association and the International Dairy Foods Association had filed a lawsuit to prevent the rules from being enforced, saying new required wording was overly burdensome and infringed on free speech. However, the court said ODA’s rule “strikes the right balance between preventing misleading information and providing enough information for consumers to make an informed choice.”
Under the rules, labels can make claims such as “from cows not supplemented with rBST” as long as a paper trail can substantiate the statement. The department also requires those labels to carry a disclaimer stating that there is no significant difference in milk from cows given the hormone and those that aren’t.
However, claims such as “rBST-free” are not allowed because they imply that the composition of the milk is different. Since rBST is a genetic duplicate of a natural bovine hormone, there is no scientific test that can detect if it was used.
The court left open the issue of whether the rules should apply to small dairy containers that have limited label space.
The court said it had considered a brief filed by Ohio Farm Bureau and the Ohio Dairy Producers Association supporting ODA’s rules. OFBF does not promote or endorse the use of rBST, but it has a policy opposing false or misleading food labels.
The associations that brought the lawsuit have said they plan to appeal.