Lawsuits filed over Ohio’s dairy labeling law

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COLUMBUS — The Organic Trade Association and International Dairy Foods Association have filed lawsuits against Ohio over the state’s new dairy labeling laws.

The Organic Trade Association filed a legal complaint against Ohio’s Department of Agriculture, challenging the state’s labeling laws as unconstitutional.

In February, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland enacted an emergency rule that would allow consumers to see if the milk they’re purchasing came from cows treated with rbST. The law became permanent in May.

The new rule stipulates that the Ohio Department of Agriculture will approve labels that read “from cows not supplemented with rbST” if the claim is verifiable.

But according to the Organic Trade Association, that information is not permitted on organic product labels.

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

“The Organic Trade Association firmly believes that consumers have a right to know, and want to know, about the products they purchase, and organic farmers and processors have a right to communicate with their consumers regarding federally regulated organic production practices,” said Caren Wilcox, executive director for the association.

Second suit

The International Dairy Foods Association filed a lawsuit saying the Ohio rule interferes with the First Amendment right of its members to communicate truthful information to Ohioans and with interstate commerce.

The association’s lawsuit says that Ohio’s rule — which dictates not only the words, but the font, style, case, color and even size of the language that must be used on labels — poses unconstitutional restrictions.

In Ohio, labels must 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-free claim, and in the same font, size, style, case and color.

The rule also prohibits claims regarding the composition of milk, as opposed to the manner in which milk is produced, such as ‘no hormones,’ ‘hormone free,’ rbST-free, rbGH-free, and ‘bST free’.

“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 IDFA.

Armstrong said Ohio’s labeling regulation is so cumbersome, especially for national and regional dairy manufacturers, that many will be forced to simply drop information about artificial growth hormones on packages altogether.

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