Ohio Withdraws Dairy Label Rule

The state of Ohio has dropped its regulation for dairy product labels that opponents argued exceeded federal guidelines for content claims such as “rbST free.”

This action comes more than three years after the International Dairy Foods Association sued the state on behalf of its dairy processor members, alleging that Ohio’s 2008 executive order limited label information provided to consumers and interfered with processors’ right to commercial free speech. Ohio’s abandonment of the rule came as part of the settlement of the litigation with IDFA and the Organic Trade Association.

“We’re pleased that the state of Ohio has agreed to withdraw its rule and allow our members to continue to make truthful and not misleading claims on their product labels,” said Clay Hough, IDFA senior group VP. “The agreement upholds our members’ constitutional rights and eliminates an impediment to the marketing of dairy products across state lines.”

After a lower court upheld Ohio’s right to require labeling requirements more stringent than federal guidelines provided by the Food and Drug Administration, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in favor of IDFA in 2010. Specifically, the Appeals Court found that the Ohio rule’s absolute ban on compositional claims, such as “rbST Free,” and the prohibition against using an asterisk to connect any claim to any disclaimer, violated the processors’ First Amendment rights.

Ohio and other opponents of “free of” claims have argued that such labeling statements, while truthful, imply that similar products without such claims are inferior even though the FDA has noted there is no significant difference between milk from cows treated or not treated with the synthetic hormone known as rbST.

Dairy companies currently use labels that follow FDA guidance to assure consumers that their dairy product claims are truthful and not misleading. Using the federal guidelines, processors understand what can and cannot be placed on a label regarding the use of synthetic hormones in milk production. Because these are national guidelines that most states follow, dairy companies can use the same product labels to market products locally, regionally and nationally.

IDFA originally filed its lawsuit in 2008, and filed its appeal in conjunction with the Organic Trade Association in 2010.

The Washington, D.C.-based International Dairy Foods Association represents the nation’s dairy manufacturing and marketing industries and their suppliers, with a membership of 550 companies representing a $110 billion a year industry.

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