Ohio Weighs in on Milk Mislabeling

Consumer groups still upset, contend it violates free speech.

Published on: Mar 27, 2008

On Tuesday, Ohio Department of Agriculture has joined Pennsylvania in filing dairy labeling regulations aimed at giving consumers accurate information about milk and milk-based products. The action was round two of a scheduled four rounds of review. And as in Pennsylvania, consumer organizations still were adamantly opposed.

Ohio Department of Agriculture Director Robert Boggs refiled the proposed dairy labeling rule with the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review. Under the modified rule, milk product labels:

Generally may not make "compositional absence claims‚" like "Hormone Free" or "rbST Free." These claims are either not provable or disclaim the presence of substances which may not legally be present in milk products.

May make "production claims" which reflect the way a dairy product was produced. For example, claims that milk was produced from cows not injected with antibiotics, if true, may appear on the product label.

Must include, along with any permissible production claim about the use of rbST, a statement regarding the FDA's determination that no significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rbST-supplemented and non-rbST-supplemented cows.

"Ohio consumers are entitled to accurate and complete information when making decisions about the food products they buy," Boggs says. "We thoughtfully reviewed all comments received (at the March 12 hearing) about the proposed rule.

"We believe we have developed the proper balance between assuring that consumers receive the information they need and deserve, while imposing the least possible burden on product processors necessary to protect consumer interests."

"While some would have preferred that we not include the requirement that rbST production claims also carry with them information about the FDA determination, we believe that it would be misleading to give consumers only one of two critically interconnected pieces of information," he adds.

Under the modified proposed rule, the FDA determination must appear contiguously to any accurate rbST production claim in a font size no less than one-half the font size of the rbST production claim. Milk product processors will have 120 days to come into compliance with the rule.

The ag department will host a public hearing at 10 a.m. April 8 on its campus in Reynoldsburg to gather public testimony on the modified proposed rule.

The rule is scheduled to be reviewed by JCARR on April 21. To view a copy of the modified rule, visit the Register of Ohio Web site at www.registerofohio.state.oh.us.  

The critics claim ...

"Contrary to their position, the ODA's new regulations do not maintain a strong consumer focus," charges Dr. Michael Hansen, senior scientist at Consumers Union, non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports. "They still prohibit certain truthful labels, such as 'no artificial hormones' or 'rbGH-free,' and 'rbST-free.'

While they are a step forward, these regulations still interfere with dairy farmers' right to free speech, and consumers' right to know."