Posts tagged with: dairy

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, April 26, 2007

Biotech giant Monsanto has added its considerable influence to the push to restrict or ban labeling of dairy products as free from added rBST, a hormone commonly used to induce cows to produce more milk.

Christopher Wanjek, a columnist at LiveScience.com, reports that Monsanto thinks that such advertising practice “scares consumers into thinking there’s something unhealthy about its human-made recombinant bovine growth hormone.”

As I related earlier this year, Julianne Malveaux headlined a similar campaign against such labeling. The claim is that the labeling is deceiving people into buying something more expensive that doesn’t have any added safety. From the perspective of Malveaux and Monsanto, companies that use “no rBST” labeling are profiting from fear-mongering. (Fellow HuffPost blogger and progressive Kerry Trueman lambasts Monsanto here. No surprise that Trueman picks on a “multinational biotech behemoth” like Monsanto rather than Julianne Malveaux and the National Organization for African Americans in Housing.)

But as Wanjek’s (and Trueman’s) piece points out, the potential harm to humans caused by added rBST hormones isn’t the only relevant factor: “For animal welfare reasons alone, consumers have the right to know how their milk is produced.”

The ultimate in natural milk is of course untreated, unpasteurized, straight-from-the-udder, “raw” milk. The FDA and various local and regional governments have been cracking down on the sale of raw milk, arguing that the threats to consumer safety necessitate such harsh action.

Perhaps the most famous case recently came to media attention last year when an Amish farmer got into trouble over violations of a milk ordinance. Arlie Stutzman was busted in a raw milk sting operation, but claimed that his religious beliefs required him to share the milk he produces with others.

“While I can and I have food, I’ll share it,” said Stutzman. But a spokeswoman from the Ohio Department of Agriculture said, “You can’t just give milk away to someone other than yourself. It’s a violation of the law.”

That seems like a classic case of the government overstepping its boundaries and insinuating itself into a relationship characterized by free exchange and association. From Stutzman’s perspective, he’s simply fulfilling his divinely ordained responsibility to be a productive and obedient servant of God, helping others by the fruit of his labor.

Maybe Stutzman should have to disclose in some fashion, perhaps via a sign or a label, that his milk is raw, just in case some unsuspecting and rather silly city slicker should unwittingly buy milk from him thinking that it is treated.

But that’s precisely the sort of disclosure about the source and production of the milk that Malveaux and Monsanto want to prevent companies like Land O’Lakes and Stonyfield Farm from making. To be fair, Stonyfield isn’t in an any more admirable position, since it (contra Monsanto) wants the FDA “to immediately withdraw approval of rBST.”

The FDA shouldn’t be siding with major milk producers to squash competition from Amish farmers. And neither should it be taking sides in corporate marketing disputes about the merits of using or not using rBST. Let the customers have the information and decide for themselves.

It looks like Julianne Malveaux is going to have to expand her complaint against the labeling of milk to a whole new spate of products, including yogurt. It may be that the whole scope of items coming from the dairy industry is going to be affected.

Here’s the label off a yogurt container that I ate out of last week:


Malveaux is concerned that this kind of labeling, which she argues deceives the consumer into thinking that the product approximates “organic” certification, makes people spend extra money uselessly.

Now it so happens that Stonyfield Yogurt is also USDA Organic, as certified by a little logo on the side of the container (while Land O’Lakes milk is not certified organic). But despite that fact, the fact that the yogurt is organic is not the information that the label on the top is touting. It’s proclaiming the virtue of having added no artificial hormones to the cows.

Is Malveaux right about the morality of labeling something “No rBST added”? Does her claim only apply if the item isn’t organic?

Let’s hear from some marketing professionals. Do marketers have an obligation only to include information on their labels that an average consumer might find relevant?

Is the fact that rBST has not been added to cows producing particular dairy products a relevant piece of datum for the consumer? And if it’s not relevant, then why do “organic regulations prohibit the use of antibiotics and synthetic growth hormones”?

Perhaps it should be up to the consumer to decide the relevance. Just a thought.