Is it misleading to label milk as free of the artificial growth hormone rBST/rBGH?
General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a Feb. 14, 1994 "Interim Guidance on the Voluntary Labeling of Milk and Milk Products from Cows That Have Not Been Treated with Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin," which (as of Oct. 12, 2010) remains the industry standard for labeling milk produced without rBST/rBGH. It says, in part:
"The agency found that there was no significant difference between milk from [rBST/rBGH] treated and untreated cows and, therefore, concluded that under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (the act), the agency did not have the authority in this situation to require special labeling for milk from rbST treated cows. FDA stated, however, that food companies that do not use milk from cows supplemented with rbST may voluntarily inform consumers of this fact in their product labels or labeling, provided that any statements made are truthful and not misleading…
Because of the presence of natural bST in milk, no milk is 'bST-free,' and a bST-free labeling statement would be false."
Is it misleading to label milk as free of the artificial growth hormone rBST/rBGH?
Monsanto Corporation, the maker of rBST (Posilac®), wrote in a Feb. 2007 letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) titled "Deceptive Milk Labeling and Advertising Concerning rBST," that:
"False and deceptive advertising regarding milk and recombinant bovine somatotropin ('rBST') has mislead consumers for years. These practices are clear violations of the Federal Trade Commission Act and result in higher milk prices for consumers and less choice for dairy farmers.
Supplementing dairy cows with rBST increases milk production and has been verified as completely safe for both cows and humans by the Food and Drug Administration...
[C]urrent advertising practices mislead consumers by falsely claiming that there are health and safety risks associated with milk from rBST-supplemented cows. This misleading advertising has created an artificial demand and higher consumer prices for milk from cows not supplemented with rBST. Fueled by the deceptive advertising, milk processors are forcing dairy farmers to discontinue the use of rBST…
Deceptive labeling practices regarding milk from cows supplemented with rBST have allowed a growing number of milk processors to compete unfairly and to mislead consumers. Action by the FTC is needed to ensure that consumer choices are accurately informed and that competition is protected."
Ruth Kava, PhD, RD, Director of Nutrition at the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), stated in her Aug. 29, 2007 article "Marketing rBST-Free Milk Is Misleading," available at www.acsh.org, that:
"Both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have ruled that companies that sell milk and other dairy products may state that the milk comes from cows that were not treated with recombinant bovine somatatropin (rBST). This bioengineered hormone is identical to the one naturally produced by cows and, when injected, extends the period of milk production. Monsanto, the corporation that produces rBST, had sued to restrict such labeling. Marketers who use the 'our cows aren't given rBST' approach are thus legally correct but scientifically wrongheaded. There's nothing unhealthful or dangerous (to humans or cows) from using rBST, in spite of activists' claims (does anyone doubt that the proponents of organic foods are behind these claims?). But the implication of this labeling is that the milk from rBST-treated cows is somehow inferior to that from untreated cows, which it isn't. Thus it perpetuates a myth about the supposed advantages of 'natural' products. While ACSH is in favor of truthful advertising and marketing, sometimes following the letter of the law can lead to the dissemination of misinformation. This is such a case."
The National Consumers League wrote in a Jan. 5, 2007 letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that:
"A number of milk processors have begun to label their products as 'hormone free,' 'rbST free,' or 'rBGH free,' to indicate they come from cows that have not been treated with recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST). We understand that consumers are charged a significant premium for these milk products. The clear implication of these claims, reinforced by the price premium, is that such products are safer or healthier than 'regular' milk.
This practice is in conflict with FDA's determination that milk from cows treated with rbST is no different, in terms of health and safety, from milk from untreated cows. These label claims also appear to be false or misleading under the FDA's interpretation of the law…
FDA in 2003 issued Warning Letters to several milk processors objecting to this practice. Given its recent reappearance and increasing popularity, we suggest that FDA again consider taking action to protect consumers of an essential food."
Dennis Wolff, Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture, wrote in a Nov. 1, 2006 article titled "Today RBST - What's Next," published in PA Farm News:
"Thirteen years ago, the Food & Drug Administration approved the use of rbST after extensive scientific research. It was proven that rbST is species-specific to bovines and deemed completely safe for human consumption. In fact, there is no way to differentiate between the milk from herds using rbST and those not using it...
Recently, several dairy processors began labeling and marketing milk as produced on farms not using synthetic hormones, attempting to gain more of the market share of milk sales. These marketing techniques are guiding consumers to purchase this milk, and allowing processors and retailers to charge more per gallon than for unlabeled milk. If consumers have preferences about the way food is produced such as 'grass-fed,' 'organic,' or 'natural,' that's their choice. However, in this situation, consumers are not basing their decisions on sound science but rather on manipulative marketing."
Terry D. Etherton, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Animal Nutrition and Head of the Department of Dairy and Animal Science at Penn State University, wrote in an Oct. 3, 2006 article titled "rBST-Certified Free Milk - A Story of Smoke and Mirrors," posted on the Pennsylvania State University Dairy and Animal Science Blog, that:
"[A]ll milk contains the same hormones in the same amounts, irrespective of whether they have been supplemented with rbST.
There's little doubt that consumers who have no understanding are easily gulled by such [rBST-free] labels…
In a nutshell, some processors are saying they are perfectly willing to exploit consumer ignorance and suspicion that some milk might be safer or healthier than other milk. Where does this lead the milk industry? I think it leads down the road of deception."
In IDFA v. Boggs, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in its Sep. 30, 2010 (3-0) decision overturning Ohio's ban on milk labels such as "rBGH free" or "artificial hormone free":
"On the one hand is milk from cows never given rbST, which in turn cannot produce milk that has rbST as a matter of fact. The composition claim 'rbST free' is therefore demonstrably true as applied to this milk. On the other hand, milk from cows treated with rbST might contain the artificial hormone, although there is currently no way to determine whether that is the case. But even if rbST is not present in conventional milk, there is still evidence that it contains increased levels of IGF-1 and might be compositionally of a lesser quality. A compositional difference thus exists between the two types of milk, although the extent of this difference—namely whether conventional milk does in fact contain rbST—is still very much an open question... Under these circumstances, we conclude that composition claims like 'rbST free' are not inherently misleading."
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) wrote the following in an Aug. 21, 2007 letter to Monsanto:
"The FTC staff agrees with FDA that food companies may inform consumers in advertising, as in labeling, that they do not use rBST, but should be careful not to suggest a human health or safety benefit…
The FTC staff has reviewed rBST-related claims for all of the companies referenced in the Monsanto submission and subsequent findings. Although many companies reference rBST in product labeling and on company web sites, the staff did not find any examples of national or significant regional advertising campaigns that made express or implied claims linking rBST to human health and safety…
[W]e have determined that formal investigation and enforcement action is not warranted at this time."
The Center For Food Safety wrote in a press release titled "Your Right to Know: Does your Milk Have Artificial Hormones?," published on the center's website (accessed Feb. 20, 2008):
"Several large dairy producers and food companies have made news recently by getting rid of recombinant bovine growth hormone, also known as rBGH or rBST, from their milk supply. This is great news for consumers, since this genetically engineered growth hormone is known to cause harm to cows and may pose health risks to humans.
In yet another attack on consumers' right to know, Monsanto, the company that makes rBGH under the trade name Posilac, has asked the Food and Drug Administration to restrict the use of labels identifying 'rBGH-free' or 'rBST-free' dairy products. Monsanto claims such labels are 'misleading' to consumers, and infer that dairy products without such a label are inferior. FDA approved the use of voluntary labels more than 12 years ago at the request of dairy companies seeking to respond to customer concerns over the use of the genetically engineered hormone. Since FDA refused to require mandatory labeling of dairy products from cows treated with rBGH, voluntary labeling by non-adopters is the only label consumers can count on to make informed decisions about what to feed themselves and their families.
If Monsanto succeeds in convincing FDA to restrict rBGH-free labeling, consumers will lose valuable information about how their food is produced."
The Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility (OPSR) wrote in their July 14, 2007 open letter to the FDA "Why Monsanto's Genetically Engineered Bovine Growth Hormone Needs to Be Banned," that:
"We contend that most consumers are very clear on the labeling and are making their buying decisions based on well-founded concerns about rBGH…
The most commonly used labels are these phrases or statements, or wording very similar: 'rBST- (or rBGH-) Free,' 'Our farmers pledge: No artificial hormones,' 'This milk comes from cows not treated with the growth hormone rBST (or rBGH)'...
The labels are quite clear and most consumers know what they mean just as much as they know what 'No preservatives,' 'No artificial flavors,' 'No artificial colors,' etc. mean when they read them on other labels. Consumers simply don't believe Monsanto and the FDA when they say there are no significant differences in the milk and no human health concerns."
Karen A. Ballard, MA, RN, Chair of the Nurses Work Group at Health Care Without Harm, wrote in a Jan. 17, 2008 letter to Governor Ted Strickland of Ohio:
"Just as a patient expects to be informed of the risks and/or benefits of a medication or treatment, a consumer should be made aware of the contents of food or food products, including residual amounts of antibiotics, hormones, or other drugs that may constitute a potential risk for harm to human health...
The Ohio Department of Agriculture is currently considering the issue of banning rBGH-free labeling (recombinant bovine growth hormone-free)...
The Nurses Work Group asserts that the public have a right-to-know exactly what they are purchasing and to individually examine the health issues surrounding any substance used in the production of the product.
Citizens and consumers have a right to know what is or is not in the foods that we purchase. The Nurses Work Group of Health Care Without Harm urges you to support food labels that include a complete list of the substances used to produce that food whether the language used to convey the information is rBGH-free or contains rBGH."