SALEM, Ohio – RbST-free.
It’s just a small, eight-letter phrase, but it’s a topic that’s getting big attention.
In October, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture banned rbST-free labels from the state’s dairy cases. The ban also included labels that said antibiotic-free, pesticide-free and hormone-free.
As the first state to take such a measure, Pennsylvania’s decision has drawn widespread attention.
What it is. RbST, or recombinant bovine somatatropin, is a synthetic growth hormone used to increase milk production in dairy cattle.
Some say the product is an acceptable production tool that has no effect on human health. Others say they prefer milk produced without the help of synthetic hormones.
Either way, dairy labels in Pennsylvania will no longer divulge information about it.
The department of agriculture said the use of rbST-free and similar labelingis misleading to consumers. According to Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff, it implies that milk labeled as hormone-free or pesticide-free is safer than milk without those labels.
The secretary said all milk sold in Pennsylvania is tested at least 10 times to ensure it doesn’t contain pesticides or antibiotics. And all milk contains low levels of hormones from the animal that produced it.
As for the rbST-free label, there’s no way to test for the product and it doesn’t affect the composition of the milk.
Changes. The state has asked 16 dairy companies that sell milk in Pennsylvania to change their labels by Jan. 1.
Rutter’s Dairy of York, Pa., is one of the companies affected by PDA’s new ruling. On Oct. 1, the company began using a label on its products that said “no artificial growth hormones.” Company president Todd Rutter wrote in an e-mail interview that the label had been approved by the department of agriculture four months earlier.
On Oct. 23, he received a notice that the label would have to be changed.
Rutter said his dairy will continue to offer rbST-free milk, regardless of what can be stated on the labels. But he’s not happy about PDA’s decision.
The company has taken its case to lawmakers and its Web site encourages customers contact their legislators, as well.
Rutter said company representatives have met with Wolff to discuss the issue and “if given the chance, we would work with them [PDA] to find a mutually acceptable solution to this problem.”
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Watching the recent debate in Pennsylvania, Ohioans have started to examine their own rbST and dairy labeling situation.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture held a meeting Nov. 6 to collect public comments on the matter and two more meetings are scheduled in December.
The November meeting included testimony from stakeholders and consumers on both sides of the rbST issue.
Demands. Dairy farmers like Stan Carmony said they’re being backed into a corner by processors and milk marketers, like Dairy Marketing Service, that are demanding rbST-free milk. The Wayne County producer has been asked to sign an affidavit, binding him to the production of rbST-free milk by Dec. 31.
If he doesn’t comply, his milk won’t be picked up.
“I’m going to fight it tooth and nail, to the end,” Carmony said in an interview after the meeting.
But if he’s forced into rbST-free production, he said his operation will lose hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.
Dairyman John Douglass also testified at the meeting, saying that “no rbST” means farmers will have to get more cows to make up for lost production.
Douglass, also from Wayne County, estimates those extra cows would take a big bite out of the country’s resources, using 6.6 billion gallons of water every year, 3 billion pounds of feed each year and 5.5 million gallons of gas and diesel fuel every year.
And that’s on top of what U.S. dairies currently use, Douglass added.
Ohio’s options. ODA director Robert Boggs has created an advisory committee – made up of about 20 stakeholders and consumers – to offer advice and opinions on rbST and dairy labeling.
“He takes this matter very seriously,” said ODA spokesperson Cindy Brown. “The director is really taking a look at this from all sides of the issue.”
Brown said there is no time frame for the director to make a decision on Ohio’s dairy labeling laws.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at email@example.com.)