Pa. softens its stance on dairy labeling

SALEM, Ohio – Pennsylvania will soon see a change in its milk labeling laws, but it’s not the change the state has anticipated since October.
The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture originally imposed a ban on what it called “misleading” labels, like hormone-free and rbST-free. While those and other similar labels have been squelched, consumers may still find information about production practices on their dairy products.
Chris Ryder, department spokesman, said dairy labels will be permitted to contain phrases like: Produced without the use of rbST; or the farmers who supply this milk have pledged not to use rbST.
Balance. Ryder said many farmers, consumers and industry groups weighed in on the issue and the new ruling is meant to be a compromise.
“This strikes a balance,” he said.
Labels that mention rbST will be required to have a disclaimer stating that no significant difference has been shown between milk from cows supplemented with rbST and milk from cows not supplemented. The disclaimer will have to be least half the size of the claim that refers to rbST.
The labels, which will be standardized, are meant to boost consumer confidence, according to Gov. Ed Rendell.
Dairy processors that plan to use the labels will be required to certify their authenticity to the department of agriculture. Ryder said processors will have to provide a paper trail showing their farmers promised not to use rbST and the product wasn’t co-mingled with milk produced using rbST.
If processors want to package milk a certain way, “they have to be able to prove it,” Ryder said.
“Consumers can have confidence that the claims made by labels are accurate and, for the first time, used in a uniform manner,” Rendell said Jan. 17.
There is no scientific test to determine if milk is produced with or without rbST, a synthetic growth hormone used to increase production in dairy cattle.
Not happy. That’s one of the reasons Dan Brandt, a dairy farmer in Annville, Pa., is upset with the push for milk produced without the product, which is also called recombinant bovine somatatropin.
“It’s impossible for it to change the composition of the milk,” he said.
Although Brandt isn’t exactly thrilled with the new regulation, he said it’s better than having milk labeled as hormone-free or rbST-free.
“It’s an improvement over what we had,” he said.
But he’s still not satisfied.
“It’s certainly not what I was looking for,” the farmer added.
With nearly every processor in Pennsylvania demanding rbST-free milk, Brandt said consumers and farmers are losing their ability to choose. Farmers are being asked to sign affidavits binding them to the production of rbST-free milk and, if all the milk is the same, consumers have just one option in the dairy case.
“The consumer and the farmer are not getting a choice in the matter,” Brandt said.
Opportunity. However, farmers like Don Kretschmann say the regulations offer a world of opportunity for producers to distinguish themselves.
For instance, organic, locally produced and free-range labels stand out in the marketplace and that’s never a bad thing, according to the farmer.
“All these different distinctions add value to the product,” said Kretschmann, an organic produce farmer in Rochester, Pa., who also sits on the board of directors of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture.
He added that labels shouldn’t undermine a consumer’s right to know.
“People want to know a lot about their food and they deserve to know,” he said.
The new regulations, which take effect March 1, bring Pennsylvania into compliance with voluntary guidelines set by the Food and Drug Administration in 1994.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at jskrinjar@farmanddairy.com.)

Related Coverage:

Dairy labeling debate continues (12/13/07)

Pa. postpones milk label change (12/06/07)

Dairy labeling, rbST take center stage in Ohio, Pa. (11/22/07)

Pa. says milk labels can be misleading (11/01/07)

Dairy industry divided (11/09/06)

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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