Food Groups Challenge Ohio Dairy Labeling Rule in Court

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) yesterday filed a legal complaint against The Ohio Department of Agriculture, challenging as unconstitutional an "emergency" rule that would bar labeling that tells a consumer whether the cows were treated with rBST, the synthetic growth hormone manufactured and sold by Monsanto under the brand Posilac.

The International Dairy Foods Association filed a similar action.

The OTA said its lawsuit represents a "determined effort not only to protect the consumer's rights to receive truthful information about how organic milk and dairy products are produced, but also to protect the rights of organic dairy farmers and processors to communicate truthfully with consumers."

The federally mandated USDA National Organic Standards prohibit the use of hormones to promote growth or increase production; genetically engineered organisms (GMOS); antibiotics; and toxic, persistent pesticides, OTA said. In addition, the standards have a "rigorous system for inspection, certification, and verification, which protects consumers from false claims," the group said.

OTA argued that the state of Ohio, in issuing its rule prohibiting organic products from being labeled "produced with milk from cows that have not been treated with synthetic growth hormones," has essentially chosen not to recognize the federal Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA).

The IDFA lawsuit accused the Ohio rule of going well beyond the labeling guidance offered by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and said it is significantly different than most other states. As a result, dairy companies will either have to create special labels just for Ohio or do away with labeling that provides information about the use of artificial growth hormones. The net effect, IDFA said, is that for many of its members the Ohio law is unworkable, costly, and impedes commercial free speech and interstate commerce.

The twin legal actions are the result of a controversial dairy product labeling regulation that went into effect on May 22, 2008 in the state, with a 120-day implementation period.

The Organic Trade Association is the membership-based business association for organic agriculture and products in North America. Its more than 1,700 members include growers, shippers, processors, certifiers, farmers' associations, distributors, importers, exporters, consultants, retailers and others.

IDFA represents the nation's dairy manufacturing and marketing industries and their suppliers, with a membership of 530 companies representing a more than $110-billion a year industry. IDFA is composed of three constituent organizations: the Milk Industry Foundation (MIF), the National Cheese Institute (NCI), and the International Ice Cream Association (IICA).
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