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OTA Opposes Ohio's Proposed Dairy-labeling Action

The Organic Trade Industry (OTA) yesterday submitted written testimony to the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) in strong opposition to a proposed rule that would affect labeling claims on dairy products sold in Ohio.

"This rule prevents organic dairy farmers and processors from truthfully communicating with retailers and consumers regarding federally regulated organic production practices," wrote Caren Wilcox, executive director of Greenfield, Mass.-based OTA, about the proposed Administrative Rule 901:11-8-01 on dairy labeling and its "emergency" implementation through Executive Order 2008-03S. "It also prevents Ohio consumers from exercising full and free choice in determining which products they wish to purchase,"

Under the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA) and the national organic rule, animals on an organic farm must be raised without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones.

The National Organic Program (NOP), which is run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, regulates labeling claims and the documentation needed for such claims on organic items. State regulation of labeling on organic products is prohibited unless approved by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. Wilcox's testimony observed that OTA is additionally concerned that Ohio is emerging as only one state trying to regulate the labels of dairy products placed in interstate shipment.

With many states mulling various labeling regulations with conflicting provisions, a confusing patchwork of rules from state to state could arise, making it expensive, inefficient, and even impossible to ship products to retailers and shoppers, according to OTA.

"We hope that Ohio recognizes that there needs to be uniformity and consistency between states and regions relative to organic," Wilcox said in testimony. "The proposed rule could do exactly the opposite if allowed to go forward. It could create a series of confusing restrictions on truthful organic labeling. This could eventually lead to a diminution of choice for consumers in Ohio."

In her recommendation that the rule not be adopted, Wilcox said, "While we appreciate Ohio's desire to protect the consumer from false and misleading labeling, we believe that the national organic standards provide more than adequate protection for users of organic products."

The group also sent a letter on the proposed rule to Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland.
OTA is the membership-based business association for organic agriculture and products in North America. Its over 1,650 members encompass growers, shippers, processors, certifiers, farmers' associations, distributors, importers, exporters, consultants, and retailers.
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