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Ohio and the rBST Ruling

For all the caterwauling, you’d think the dairy industry had suffered a crushing setback after yesterday’s federal district court ruling that upheld Ohio’s milk labeling regulations.

Well, it hasn't. The labels claiming a dairy product is made with milk free of the artificial growth hormone rBST can still go on the label. It just has to be accompanied by an equally prominent FDA disclaimer stating, “No significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rBST-supplemented and non-rBST supplemented cows.”

The court upheld the disclaimer. So what? What’s important is that consumers still get to find out that the product is free of the hormone. Indeed, is anything left in a supermarket that contains rBST? It’s been under attack almost since 1994, the year it was introduced by Monsanto, with claims it could increase milk production by up to 10% a year. I wonder just how much is still sold, compared to, say, five years ago.

The idea behind the original Ohio rule was a compromise (read: politics) between the forces who thought it was unfair to single out a compound and those who wanted to promote an unadulterated food product. What Ohio politicos stressed in the “emergency rule” that took effect a year ago was that there is no test to detect the presence of rBST, so verification is difficult and must rely on a paper trail of affidavits and supporting proof from producers.

The “compromise” is: Go ahead an make your (un)verifiable claim, but you’ll have to note that federal regulators haven’t found anything bad about rBST.

Kroger, Wal-Mart and a few other big retailers in Ohio sell private-label milk that is free of rBST, and numerous brand manufacturers like Stonyfield Farm, White Wave and Organic Valley have sworn off using rBST milk in their products. Consumers looking to live rBST-free can read the first part of the label, and ignore the rest.

Or — and here’s the ultimate beneficiary in this issue — they can purchase USDA-certified organic, which bans rBST, GMOs and the rest of the crazy alphabet soup that goes into much of our food supply.