Got rBST? Dairy labeling and Governor Kathleen Sebelius

Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius has some important business before her in Kansas as she is preparing for a role on the federal scene as secretary of Health and Human Services, assuming she is confirmed.

You see, the Kansas legislature has bowed to pressure and passed a law that is intended to prevent dairy farmers who do not use growth hormones in their cows from letting the public have this information. In recent years the public has clearly voted against milk produced using Posilac / rBST / rBGH.


The Kansas legislature, in a tight vote, passed a law that requires not just a disclaimer that the FDA has found no difference between milk produced with or without rBST, but – and far more important – those who want to give the public this information must prove they do not use rBST. Proving a negative is always difficult – and in this case expensive enough – that many milk producers will decide the label is just not worth the time and money.

A nice gift to the producers of rBST who have been finding their sales plummeting as the public learns more.

So now the ball is in Gov. Sebelius court.

How does it look for the presumptive Secretary of Health and Human services to keep the public from knowing about what they ingest? About keeping information people want to have so they can take some control over their and their families’ health?

Many groups are signing on to a letter urging Gov. Sebelius to veto the legislation. The public is not being asked to sign on to this letter. Rather, Kansans who care about this issue are asked to contact Gov. Sebelius directly via letter or web email (no direct email, must go through http://www.governor.ks.gov/comments/comment.htm).

Here is the group letter for more information. The letter is signed by the following groups located in and outside Kansas.

Kansas

Leslie Siebert,
Catalpa Grove Gardens, Pretty Prairie

Jeanie Wells, General Manager
Community Mercantile Consumer Coop, Lawrence

Henry Creek Four Mill, Peabody

Tim Iwig
Iwig Family Dairy, Tecumseh

Janzen Family Farms, Newton

Kansas City Food Circle

Steve and Betty Augustine
Kayala Emu Estates, Hesston

Daryl. Larson
Larson Acres, McPherson Co.

Little Red Hen Bakery, Newton

Norm’s Flour, Elbing

Craig Volland
Sierra Club, Kansas Chapter

Spring Creek Ranch, Willowdale

Wichitaw Food Coop, Wichitaw

Outside Kansas

Robyn O’Brien, Founder
AllergyKids

Barbara A. Brenner, Executive Director
Breast Cancer Action

Mark Kastel
The Cornucopia Institute

Ronnie Cummins, Executive Director
Organic Consumers Association

Charles Margulis
Center for Environmental Health

Heather Whitehead, Director True Food Network
Center for Food Safety

John Stauber, Executive Director
Center for Media and Democracy

John Kinsman, President
Family Farm Defenders

Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director
Food and Water Watch

Miyun Park, Vice President, Farm Animal Welfare
The Humane Society of the United States

Jeffrey Smith, Executive Director
Institute for Responsible Technology

Katherine Ozer, Executive Director
National Family Farm Coalition

Rick North, Project Director, Campaign for Safe Food
Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility

Mark Lipson, Senior Policy Analyst
Organic Farming Research Foundation

Laurel Hopwood, Genetic Engineering Action Team
Sierra Club

Nancy Hirschberg, VP Natural Resources
Stonyfield Farm, Inc.

Here is the letter on the same subject from Consumers Union to Governor Sebelius:

On April 8, 2009 Consumers Union sent a similar letter to Governor Sebelius, see below:

April 8, 2009

Governor Kathleen Sebelius
Office of the Governor
Capitol, 300 SW 10th Ave., Ste. 212S
Topeka, KS 66612-1590

Dear Governor Sebelius,

Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, is writing to ask you to veto HB 2121 that restricts labels on dairy products from cows not treated with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rbGH), also called recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST). This law would require a disclaimer (“The FDA has determined that no significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rbGH-supplemented and non-rbGH-supplemented cows”) in similar font size and on the same panel as where a label states “from cows not treated with rbGH.”

We feel that HB 2121 puts unnecessary obstacles in the way of consumers getting the information they want, restricts free speech rights of dairies and processors, and interferes with the smooth functioning of free markets.

RbGH (or rbST) is an animal drug originally manufactured by Monsanto (and now made by Elanco) that some farmers inject into dairy cows to increase milk production. The latest USDA survey in 2007 estimated that only 15.2% of farmers in the US used rbGH(1) . Since that survey, dozens of processors and retailers, both small and large, have gone rbGH-free, so it’s estimated that far fewer are using it now. Most Kansan farmers contract with Dairy Farmers of America, which is rbGH-free.

We object to a section in this bill, which would make it more difficult for farmers to inform consumers that they are not using this hormone on their cows and require language that may mislead the consumer.

There are several reasons why we particularly oppose the section which requires the disclaimer in a similar font, style, case, size, color and location as the main label claim (e.g. “this milk is from cows not supplemented with rbST”).

First and foremost, we urge you not to require the disclaimer, which was developed in 1994, because there is significant evidence it is not accurate. There are, in fact, significant differences between milk from cows treated with rbGH and from cows not treated, some of which have emerged in the last decade as the science has developed. FDA’s own publications have demonstrated that milk from cows treated with rbGH show statistically significant increases of the hormone insulin-like growth factor 1(2) (IGF-1) (which more recently has been linked to breast(3) , colorectal (4), and prostate(5) cancer, although whether the increased IGF-1 levels due to rbGH in milk would affect health has not been established).

The milk of treated cows also shows increases in average somatic cell counts (indicative of mastitis infections in cows and an indication of the quality of the milk)(6). The additional antibiotic required to treat these infections can’t help but contribute to the overall problem of antibiotic resistance in humans, a major and increasingly critical national health problem.

The American Nurses Association, Center For Food Safety, Food and Water Watch, National Family Farm Coalition, Humane Society of the U.S. and many other organizations have all officially opposed the use of rbGH. Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports), has said that FDA should suspend approval of rbGH until new evidence (since approval in 1994) related to human safety can be evaluated. Codex Alimentarius, the U.N.’s main food safety body, has twice concluded there was no consensus that rbGH was safe for human consumption, and most of the industrialized nations of the world have not approved its use.

Health Care Without Harm, a coalition of over 460 organizations in 53 nations promoting safe and healthy practices in hospitals, adopted an official position statement in 2006 opposing the use of rbGH based on human and animal health concerns (7). To date, over 160 hospitals all over the country have pledged to discontinue serving rbGH dairy products. The past president of the American Medical Association concurred, asking AMA members not to serve rbGH milk in hospitals(8).

Any state that requires a specific statement on a label has an obligation to ensure that statement is true. It is obvious from a significant body of science and the positions of numerous respected organizations that there are serious questions whether this statement is true. With this level of uncertainty, it is simply not right for Kansas to require it and give Kansans the false impression that there is a consensus that milk from rbGH-treated cows is not “significantly different” from milk from untreated cows.

Second, the disclaimer is not necessary as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has explicitly said that it is not required. In a July 27, 1994 letter to the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets, FDA stated “the bottom line is that a contextual statement is not required, that in many instances a statement like “from cows not treated with rbST” would not be misleading, and in no instance is the specific statement “No significant difference . . .” required by FDA.” (9)

Third, we know of no federal agency that requires such a disclaimer to be in a similar font, style, case, size and location as the main label claim, nor is their any such requirement in 49 out of 50 states. This constitutes undue interference with the exercise of free markets and is not necessary to inform the consumer. To have such a detailed requirement will interfere with interstate commerce since adjoining states may have different requirements. Thus, a label that is legal in Missouri could be illegal in Kansas and could mean that that product would not be marketed in Kansas. Also, companies that sell products nationally, such as Ben & Jerry’s ice cream or Tillamook cheese, would either have to not market products in Kansas or change labels on all their products to comply with the regulation.(10) A likely scenario is that, faced with a myriad of state labeling regulations, national companies would stop any kind of rBGH-free labeling at all. This would deprive them of a very valuable marketing tool, since more and more consumers are looking for these labels. The net effect is that consumers would know less about what’s in their food at the same time they are expressing a desire to know more.

HR 2121 will mandate misleading label language and negatively impact Kansan consumers’ ability to make informed decisions about the dairy products they buy. It interferes with farmers and dairies’ rights to free speech. In this era of increased concern about what’s in our food and how it is produced, Kansas should be making more information available, not less.

Thank you for your consideration of this serious issue, and we urge a veto of HB 2121.

Yours,

Michael Hansen
Senior Scientist
Consumers Union
________________________________

(1) United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). 2007. Pg. 79 in Dairy
2007 Part 1: Reference of Dairy Cattle Health and Management Practices in the
United States, 2007. Veterinary Services, Animal Plant Health Inspection
Service, USDA. October 2007
(2) Freedom of Information Summary POSILAC (sterile sometribove zinc suspension), November 5, 1993 At: http://www.fda.gov/cvm/4390.htm#bst6j
(3) Hankinson, S.E., Willett, W.C., Colditz, G.A.. Hunter, D.J., Michaud, D.S., Deroo, B., Rosner, B. Speizer, F.E. and M. Pollack. 1998. Circulating concentrations of insulin-like growth factor-1 and risk of breast cancer. Lancet, 351(9113): 1393-1396.
(4) Giovannucci, E., Pollack, M.N., Platz, E.A., Willett, W.C., Stampfer, M.J., Majeed, N., Colditz, G.A., Speizer, F.E. and S.E. Hankinson. 2000. A prospective study of plasma insulin-like growth factor-1 and binding protein-3 and risk of colorectal neoplasia in women. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, 9: 345-349.
(5) Chan, J.M., Stampfer, M.J., Giovannucci, E., Gann, P.H., Ma, J., Wilkinson, P., Hennekens, C.H. and M. Pollack. 1998a. Plasma insulin-like growth factor-I and prostate cancer risk: a prospective study. Science, 279: 563-566.
(6) Millstone, E, Brunner, E and I White. 1994. Plagiarism or protecting public health? Nature, 371: 647-648
(7) http://www.noharm.org/details.cfm?ID=1104&type=document
(8) Davis, R. 2008. Making Health Care Greener, AMA eVoice, April 24, 2008
(9) Letter dated July 27, 1994 from Jerold Mande, Executive Assistant to the Commissioner of FDA, to Harold Rudnick, Director, Division of Milk Control, New York Department of Agriculture and Markets
(10) International Dairy Foods Association Files Suit to Stop Ohio’s Labeling Law. At: http://www.rffretailer.com/CDA/Articles/Industry_News/BNP_GUID_9-5-2006_A_10000000000000370285

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