Ohio’s dairy labeling law goes to court

SALEM, Ohio — Ohio’s new dairy labeling law is being challenged in court.

The International Dairy Foods Association filed a lawsuit June 30 against the Ohio Department of Agriculture, saying the state’s regulations interfere with its members’ rights to “communicate truthful information to Ohioans and with interstate commerce.”

Also on June 30, the Organic Trade Association filed a legal complaint against the department, claiming Ohio’s rule is unconstitutional.

New rule

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland enacted an emergency ruling Feb. 7 that regulated the information allowed to appear on dairy product labels. Products may be labeled “from cows not supplemented with rbST” if that claim is verifiable.

The label must also include a U.S. Food and Drug Administration disclaimer stating, “no significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rbST-supplemented and non-rbST-supplemented cows.”

The disclaimer must be printed on the same label panel as the rbST-related claim, and in the same font, style, case, color and at least a seven point type.

While production claims are permitted on labels, statements about the composition of milk (no hormones, hormone free, rbST-free, rbGH-free, and bST free) are not.

RbST, or recombinant bovine somatatropin, is a synthetic growth hormone used to stimulate milk production in dairy cattle.

The law went into effect May 22 and there is a 120-day implementation period for manufacturers to bring their labels into compliance.

IDFA claims

International Dairy Foods Association’s lawsuit says Ohio’s law poses too many restrictions on dairy manufacturers.

“The practical effect of the Ohio rule silences manufacturers of dairy products and prevents Ohioans from knowing whether artificial growth hormones have been used in dairy products,” said Peggy Armstrong, communications director for the association.

Armstrong said Ohio’s labeling regulation is cumbersome, especially for national and regional dairy manufacturers. It’s also significantly different than most other states.

According to the association, some manufacturers will have to create special labels for Ohio or do away with labeling that provides information about the use of synthetic growth hormones.

The International Dairy Foods Association called the law unworkable, costly and said it impedes commercial free speech and interstate commerce.

OTA concerns

The Organic Trade Association pinpointed three ways it feels Ohio’s law is unconstitutional:

First, the Ohio rule violates OTA’s members’ free speech rights.

Second, the federal Organic Foods Production Act already regulates the organic products industry, and the USDA’s National Organic Program has clear labeling requirements for certified organic labels.

Third, the Ohio rule violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution that gives Congress sole authority to regulate interstate commerce.

The association claims Ohio has violated that prohibition by regulating dairy products outside of Ohio that are shipped into the state and controlling the labeling of dairy products in Ohio that are shipped outside of the state.

Bill Schwaderer, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Agriculture, said a timeline has not been established for when the cases will move forward.

About the Author

Former reporter Janelle Skrinjar wrote for Farm and Dairy from 2005 to 2009. More Stories by Janelle Skrinjar

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