Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Milk labeling: I rather be confused.

I don't know about you, but shopping for milk is very confusing.  It used to be it was either skim, 1%, 2% or whole milk.  Now when you go to the market and read the labels each brand is touting something different.  Pasteurized, ultra-pasteurized, homogenized, organic, no antibiotics, no hormones, ultra-pure, no rBST, no rBGH, fortified with vitamin A & D added, lactose-free, DHA Omega-3, the list goes on. 

But at least we have a list of items to decipher.  Maybe not for long if Monsanto gets their way. Monsanto, the maker of Posilac, an artificial hormone that stimulates milk production, would like to change the labeling law on milk.  We recognize this hormone as rBST or rBGH (recombinant bovine somatotropin). Many milk companies now label their milk stating that no rBST (or rBGH) were used on their cows but they also have to add the statement: The FDA has found no significant difference between milk derived from rBST-treated and non-rBST treated cows. Confused? 

Monsanto feels if the FDA deems it safe then why should milk be labeled that no rBST/rBGH were used.  Safe?  If it is so safe, why is the hormone banned in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and most of Europe?

Well to be fair to Monsanto, they are not directly trying to change the law, it is a group called American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology (Afact).  But who is Afact? As reported in the New York Times, Afact was formed by Monsanto and a consultant that has Monsanto on their client roster, in addition to a marketing/pr firm whose founders were former Monsanto executives, and were hired to work on Posilac. 

Last year, Monsanto asked the FDA and Federal Trade Commission to crack down on milk labels. And for once these agencies refused.  So Monsanto has taken their fight to the states. Label change bills have come up in Ohio, New Jersey, Indiana, Kansas, Utah, Vermont and Missouri.  Pennsylvania, the fifth largest dairy state in the nation, actually banned the no rBST labeling but rescinded the law when consumers and some dairies complained.  Ohio passed a law that stating milk labels are not allowed to say rBST free.  In Indiana, a bill was introduced banning rBST-free labeling. It passed in the Indiana House Agriculture Committee but was never brought to the full house because the state representative did not have enough votes for it to pass. But dairy farmers in Indiana are pushing it because they use rBST.  Kansas just introduced a similar bill. 

Just to give a a little background on Monsanto.  This is the wonderful company that brought us Agent Orange, PCBs, genetically engineered seed, sacchrin, aspartame, nuclear weapons, and growth hormones. The Environmental Protection Agency list Monsanto as a potentially responsible party for 56 Superfund sites in the US.  Who knows how many sites they have contaminated around the world.

If Monsanto has its way, Ben & Jerry's would have to change its advertising campaign that their ice cream doesn't contain the synthetic growth hormones made by Monsanto.  Currently Ben & Jerry's is fighting these labeling laws.  As they state, "We believe that rBGH, a genetically engineered hormone given to dairy cows to increase their milk productions, is a step in the wrong direction toward a synthetic, chemically-intensive, factory-produced food supply.  It also raises the risk of serious health problems in cows.  That's why we've worked with our dairy suppliers to make sure they do not use rBGH on their herds. And it seems like it shouldn't be a secret."

When it comes to the labeling of our foods, I rather be provided with as much information as possible so I can make my decision.  Confused or not, the more information the better. 

To label or not, what do you think?

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