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A Major Legal Victory in the Fight for Hormone-Free Milk

After two years, a federal court has ruled that Ohio's ban on the labeling of dairy products as hormone-free is unconstitutional.
 
 
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After two years of wrangling in the courts, a federal court has ruled that Ohio's ban on the labeling of dairy products as hormone-free is unconstitutional. The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is a major setback for corporations selling dairy products from cows treated with synthetic bovine hormones to an unwitting public.

It was the court's decision that Ohio's absolute ban on voluntary, hormone-free labeling violated the First Amendment rights of dairy processors and was "more extensive than necessary to serve the state's interest in preventing consumer deception."

The landmark case was brought to court by the Organic Trade Association (OTA). OTA and its members, including Horizon Organic®, Organic Valley®, and Stonyfield Farm®, filed the appeal in conjunction with the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA).

"OTA believes consumers have a right to know how their food was produced, and organic farmers and manufacturers should be allowed to tell them," said Christine Bushway, CEO of OTA, a leading trade group for the $26.6 billion organic industry in North America. "We are pleased the court agrees," added Bushway.

Broader Implications

According to an NPR report, the ruling calls into question a 17-year-old U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finding that there's "no significant difference" between the milk of cows given growth hormone and those that aren't, something many in the scientific community have been challenging for years.

The court cited studies indicating that milk from cows treated with growth hormones was of lower nutritional quality and will turn sour more quickly. That raises the possibility that genetically-engineered salmon could face similar legal action if the FDA rules that it is not significantly different from other farm-raised Atlantic salmon.

Consumers Want Hormone-Free Labeling

The legal victory can be expected to be met with approval by the vast majority of American consumers. The Consumer Reports National Research Center polled more than 1,000 people nationwide on various food labeling issues; some 76% of those polled were concerned with "dairy cows given synthetic growth hormones" and 88% agreed that "milk from cows raised without synthetic bovine growth hormone should be allowed to be labeled as such."

The U.S. is in the minority among industrialized nations by allowing the use of synthetic growth hormones to artificially stimulate milk production in dairy herds. The practice is already prohibited in Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and in the 27 countries of the European Union.

Jeff Deasy is president of American Feast .

 
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