SALEM, Ohio – One month after announcing a ban on “misleading” dairy labels, the
Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has given dairies an additional 31 days to change the wording placed on their products.
In October, Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff said the “misleading” labels included claims like hormone free, antibiotic free and pesticide free. The label ban affected 16 dairies that sell milk in Pennsylvania and the department imposed a Jan. 1 deadline for the labels to be changed.
Feb. 1. During the week of Nov. 26, the department’s Bureau of Food Safety and Laboratory Services sent a letter to fluid milk permit holders that said the deadline has been moved to Feb. 1.
PDA spokesman Chris Ryder said the department will take the extra time to examine all its options.
“We received a lot of feedback from the general public and dairy producers and dairy processors and we’re going to take time here to review the issue more thoroughly,” he said.
Here’s the problem. Wolff said the labels in question are misleading or unverifiable.
For instance, pesticide- and antibiotic- free labels are misleading because all milk sold in Pennsylvania is tested multiple times to make sure those elements are not present.
And labels that state a product is rbST-free can’t be verified. Recombinant bovine somatatropin, or rbST, is a synthetic hormone used to increase milk production in dairy cattle. While some milk is being touted as rbST-free, Wolff said there’s no scientific way to confirm whether or not milk contains the product.
A hormone-free label is also misleading, according to the department, because all milk contains some hormones from the animal that produced it.
This type of “absence labeling” tells consumers what isn’t in the milk instead of what is, according to the secretary.
And that makes some milk appear safer than others.
Wolff went on to say that milk labeled as “hormone free” or “antibiotic free” often sells for a higher price than milk without such labels.
“The department must approve the labels for milk sold in Pennsylvania and we’re seeing more and more marketing that is making it hard for consumers to make informed decisions,” he said.
Change. The 16 companies affected by this change are only being asked to change their labels. There will be no other fines or punishments.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)