The Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down an Ohio state ban last week that prohibited dairy not treated with bovine growth hormone from being labeled “rbGH free,” “rbST free” or “artificial hormone free.”
The ruling, the result of more than two years of litigation filed against Ohio’s director of agriculture by the Organic Trade Association, determined the ban on hormone-free claims violated dairy processors’ First Amendment rights and was “more extensive than necessary to serve the state’s interest in preventing consumer deception.”
Food-safety advocates are hopeful the case will bring attention to all food-labeling issues, in light of the current labeling controversy surrounding genetically engineered foods.
“I definitely think people are becoming more concerned about what’s in the food they eat, and it’s cases like these that call attention to these serious issues,” said Paige Tomaselli, staff attorney at the Center for Food Safety. “I think that the more these cases are presented, the more consumers will push back and demand clearer labeling of, for instance, GE foods.”
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the ruling was the court’s finding, based on information supplied by the CFS, of compositional differences between milk from cows treated with hormones and hormone-free milk. The decision contradicts the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s finding that there are no significant differences.
As reported by NPR, the court cited three ways in which rbST milk is different from hormone-free milk, including: increased levels of the hormone IGF-1, a period of milk with lower nutritional quality during lactation and more pus in the milk.
“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 the OTA, in a release.
It’s currently unclear what steps will be taken next. The International Dairy Foods Association reports state officials may appeal to the full Sixth Circuit Court or the U.S. Supreme Court. Without an appeal, the case returns to the state District Court for further proceedings.