HARRISBURG, Pa. — In a reversal of an earlier decision, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has announced that it will allow the state's milk producers to label products produced without the use of artificial hormones.
In October, the state had published regulations that would have prohibited dairies from using labels indicating the use or non-use of artificial growth hormones in dairy herds beginning next month.
While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, have long maintained that there is no technologically discernible difference in milk produced by conventionally raised cows and cows treated with recombinant bovine growth hormones, consumer questions and concerns about these hormones are widely viewed as one of the primary drivers behind the rapid growth of the organic dairy market, where artificial hormones have never been allowed.
In response, during the past two years, many conventional dairies have publicly announced plans to discontinue use of rBGH and rBST as well, and major companies, including Starbucks and Kroger, last year said they would stop selling milk from suppliers that use these production boosters at their dairies, citing consumer concerns.
Pennsylvania's law, however, represented a reaction to concerns from dairies that planned to continue using rBGH and rBST, and which argued that “artificial hormone-free” labels would cast their products in an unfair light by contrast. Washington, Missouri and Ohio have considered similar legislation on similar grounds.
However, protests and petitions from local and national consumer groups, dairies, farmers and environmental organizations helped reverse the decision in Pennsylvania.
“This is a victory for free speech, free markets, sustainable farming and the consumer's right to know,” said Michael Hansen, a senior scientist with Consumers Union, a Yonkers, N.Y.-based consumer advocacy group and publisher of Consumer Reports magazine.