ESPY SAYS HE'S IN FAVOR OF LABELS FOR BST MILK

CHICAGO -- U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy said he is in favor of labeling milk derived from animals treated with the synthetic growth hormone bovine somatotropin.Espy, commenting that he cannot speak officially on the issue, made his remark at a May 1 press conference here during the annual convention of the Food Marketing Institute."The USDA as a cabinet has not taken a position on the BST

CHICAGO -- U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy said he is in favor of labeling milk derived from animals treated with the synthetic growth hormone bovine somatotropin.

Espy, commenting that he cannot speak officially on the issue, made his remark at a May 1 press conference here during the annual convention of the Food Marketing Institute.

"The USDA as a cabinet has not taken a position on the BST issue, except that we have read studies by the Office of Management and Budget and the Food and Drug Administration, which both suggest there really is no difference between milk with synthetic BST and milk from naturally produced BST," said Espy.

The reports, he said, suggest there would be no effect on human health or the economy.

BST increases milk production in cows.

But, said Espy, "I've talked to dairy groups all around the country and they dispute findings from the FDA.

"And I certainly can question the economic impact of BST because it basically exists to increase the capacity of the animal to produce milk, and, naturally, if you have more milk it would tend to reduce the price.

"So I just have some questions of my own on that particular interpretation, but right now we have to stick with the FDA findings and just say that there is no impact," said Espy.

FDA last year approved the sale of a synthetic version of BST, marketed by Monsanto Co., and subsequently issued guidelines to prevent labels that would suggest non-BST milk is purer than milk produced from cows treated with BST.

As reported, some states have attempted to label milk anyway, which has triggered a legal challenge

by some industry groups who side with FDA.

Espy, who fielded a wide range of questions on USDA's activities, opened the press conference with comments on the administration's efforts to increase exports, both commodities and high-value consumer goods, by forging foreign trade agreements, such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"We are incredibly productive as compared to producers and ranchers anywhere around the world. But here in the U.S., we can't consume everything we grow and raise. That's why we have to target the export market," he told the journalists attending FMI. He said the Uruguay Round of GATT, signed in April by 117 nations, levels the playing field more than any other agreement in the world for the trading of agricultural products. The agreement, he noted, still is pending Congressional approval, which is expected this fall.

He also said individuals who contend the GATT and NAFTA agreements could undermine U.S. food laws "have it wrong."

He said NATFA will not force the United States to "reduce, or to water down or minimize in any way any of our U.S. laws." He added that every country involved in the GATT agreement is a sovereign nation and that sovereignty is respected.

"There can be GATT panels to make nonbinding decisions, but every nation is sovereign and the U.S. is like the 800-pound gorilla in that it is the most sovereign of all," he said. Earlier in the day, the first of the three-day conference, Espy participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open the show's U.S. Food Export Showcase and toured the exhibit area.

The U.S. Export Showcase is sponsored by the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and is supported by USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service. The exhibit, which had its debut last year, included some 29 state pavilions and 340 individual exhibitors.