Natural Foods Merchandiser

Kansas Gov. Sebelius urged to veto rbGH milk-label law

Unless Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius vetoes bill number HB 2121 sometime in the next week, or so, dairy products in her state will soon bear a label stating that according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, there are no significant differences between milk from cows that receive injections of recombinant bovine growth hormone (rbGH) or recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST) and those that do not.

Last week, a coalition of 29 farmers, manufacturers, consumer groups and others sent Sebelius a letter urging her to veto the bill. The coalition is concerned that because the new label would appear in a similar font, style, case, size, color and location as the main label claim—"this milk is from cows not supplemented with rbST," for example—it would send a misleading message about the potential risks associated with rbGH and rbST.

The basis for the disclaimer about bovine growth hormones—genetically engineered substances originally developed by Monsanto and used to stimulate milk production—is an FDA review published 18 years ago. Since that time, the letter argued, new science has emerged to suggest that rbGH and rbST are potentially hazardous and could be linked to some cancers.

The coalition's letter also warned that some nationwide manufacturers, such as Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream or Tillamook cheese, could pull their products from Kansas shelves rather than investing in new labels that comply with the law.

Heather Whitehead, true food network director at the Center for Food Safety said, "Growing consumer demand to remove rbGH has really spread across the country. Kansas is just taking a step in the wrong direction."

The Kansas legislation is attracting national attention because Sebelius is currently in the confirmation process to become the next secretary of Health and Human Services in the Obama administration, a post that has been open since former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle withdrew his nomination in February.

Whitehead said she couldn't speculate on the likelihood that Sebelius would veto the bill. However, if the regulation is enacted, she said, "Given that Sebelius is in line to head the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the FDA, we will continue to work with her on this issue."

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