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Mystery milk: Rule change would keep consumers in the dark

Published February 28, 2008 7:18 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Most Utah consumers want to know what's in their food and how it is produced. Some prefer vegetables and fruit that are grown without pesticides, and milk and meat that are produced with no growth hormones.

Food grown under those conditions and other federally mandated standards can be labeled "certified organic." with a description of the required production standards.

That's not to say non-organic food is unsafe or inferior. The two are simply produced differently, and consumers have a fundamental right to make a choice. To do that, they have to have the information contained on food labels. But a Utah House member who is also a non-organic dairy farmer wants to restrict labeling for organic foods, keeping important information out of the hands of consumers.

Rep. Kerry Gibson, R-Ogden, says that labeling milk as having been produced without the use of the bovine growth hormone rBST is "misleading" and implies that non-organic products are not as safe as those labeled organic.

That's bunk. And self-serving bunk at that.

Gibson and others, including Monsanto, the company that produces rBST and makes a lot of money selling it to farmers, are proposing a Utah Agriculture Department rule change. The new rule would prohibit milk being labeled "rBST-free" or any food labels or ads that make any claim, true or otherwise, that can't be proven by an "analytical test."

That's bunk, too.

The label "Made in Utah" would be prohibited, since such a claim cannot be verified by an analytical test. A sentence on a soup can reading "just the right herbs and spices in a flavorful broth" would have to be verified by an analytical test.

The rule would allow milk to be labeled "rBST-free" as long as the label also stated that "no sigificant difference has been shown between milk derived from cows treated with artificial growth hormones and cows not treated with artificial hormones."

That would require organic-dairy owners to make a judgment for consumers about a chemical product that they have chosen not to use and about which the jury is still out. It would make more sense to require milk containing the growth hormone to be labeled as such.

The Utah Agriculture Department should consider the source of this rule-change proposal and act in the best interest of Utah consumers by rejecting it.