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Consumers Win a Label Fight

Consumers in Pennsylvania will still be able to examine containers of milk to see if it was produced without artificial growth hormones.

In what one consumer advocate called “a complete backdown,” the state’s department of agriculture issued revised rules this week concerning on-pack mentions of hormones in milk. The old rule, issued last October and to take effect Feb. 1, banned any statements from appearing on cartons or jugs. Officials argued consumers could be led to believe hormones were bad.

Why is this case important? It was the first time a state had pursued such a policy, and would set a precedent. Opponents quickly voiced their concerns, characterizing the debate as a “right to know” issue which, in turn, attracted the interest of average shoppers. They caught the ear of Gov. Ed Rendell, who ordered a review of the proposed standards (read: Fix this!).

If anything, the new regulations bring Pennsylvania in line with other states' policies. Labels can still highlight the absence of recombinant bovine growth hormone, manufactured by Monsanto and approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration in 1994. However, such assertions must now be accompanied by a disclaimer stating there is no difference between milk from rBGH-treated cows and rBGH-free cows. It basically amounts to little more than a pain in the asterisk.

Dairy is one of the gateway categories to health and wellness. Retailers should be extremely wary of any measures that cloud the transparency essential to the vitality and success of the entire whole health movement. When you look at it in those terms, Pennsylvania is making the right decision.