Natural Foods Merchandiser

A victory for cheese as Tillamook defeats Monsanto

The Tillamook County Creamery Association voted Feb. 28 to ban the use of growth hormone in its dairy cows. The association, which comprises 147 dairies, produces one of the best-known brands of natural cheese.

?Despite reassurances from the Food and Drug Administration and scientists, consumers view artificial growth hormone supplementation as inconsistent with the Tillamook brand image,? the Oregon-based association said in a news release.

While a majority of member dairies favored banning the growth hormone, the 84-43 vote was far from unanimous. Some observers ascribe that outcome to the efforts of biotech giant Monsanto, which produces recombinant bovine somatotropin, the synthetic version of recombinant bovine growth hormone, under the brand name Posilac.

?There has been a definite influence of Monsanto,? said Tillamook spokeswoman Christie Lincoln, noting that an attorney from Monsanto?s law firm came to Oregon to help farmers draft an amendment to the association?s bylaws to prevent the ban. ?[Monsanto] also sent some letters to our membership [saying the company would] do whatever they could to help.?

Monsanto reportedly argued that a ban on rBST would reduce milk production and therefore lower profits. ?For individual producers, it is unfortunate that their choice to use a product that has provided a significant economic benefit for many Tillamook family farms has been limited,? Monsanto said in a statement.

In the end, the majority of member dairies had confidence in Tillamook?s board of directors, which proposed the ban in May 2004. ?We?re a consumer-driven company, and they felt this is the direction they should be going in,? Lincoln said.

The ban will be enforced beginning April 1, though the dairy co-op will not label its products rBST-free. ?Such labeling might cause consumer confusion because the FDA has found that milk from rBST-supplemented cows is safe and there is virtually no difference in milk from treated and untreated cows,? the Tillamook news release said. Tillamook had 2003 sales of $270 million, according to Hoover?s Online.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 4/p. 16

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