November 14, 2007

Milk Labeling Shenanigans

Man, this stinks like, well, rotten milk! About a week before Halloween, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture announced that, as of January 1, it is no longer going to allow dairy products sold in Pennsylvania to indicate on the label that they are “hormone-free” or “antibiotic free.”

The rationale behind the move -- which was reportedly made in concert with a 22-member Food Labeling Advisory Committee composed of “dietitians, consumer advocates and food industry representatives” – is that the labels are misleading. Oh, and as the PA Dept. of Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff explains, these products also tend to cost more.

Here is the money quote:

“Consumers rely upon the labeling of a product to make decisions about what they buy and what to feed their families,” said Wolff. “The department must approve the labels for milk sold in Pennsylvania and we’re seeing more and more marketing that is making it hard for consumers to make informed decisions.” (emphasis mine)

Um, Denny, if I may call you that (I’d like to call you something else right now), you know what helps me make informed decisions? Knowing what is being done to the cows from which the milk my kids are drinking or the yogurt I am eating comes. To me, Denny, it’s important to know that the cows are not being pumped full of synthetic growth hormone produced by the chemical giant Monsanto so each cow can produce an extra gallon of milk a day. And, Denny, it’s apparently important to a lot of other people, as well, otherwise companies like Kroger and Starbucks wouldn’t be making the switch to only synthetic hormone-free products.

It’s also important to me because, when I use the Google, I find out little bits of disturbing information, like the fact that Canada and Europe have banned the use of this growth hormone, rGBH, in cattle there. And that decision was made based on research performed by Canadian and European researchers which turned up some disturbing findings:

After more than nine years of study that took into account the findings of two independent advisory panels, Health Canada (the FDA's Canadian counterpart) made the decision to ban the hormone, citing greatly increased health risks to cows and potential health risks for humans exposed to rBGH. Canadian researchers reported that "long-term toxicology studies to ascertain human safety" must be conducted, as their research indicated that rbGH may cause "sterility, infertility, birth defects, cancer and immunological derangements" in humans. Other recent studies, as reported in the Journals Science (1/23/98) and The Lancet (5/9/98) have linked IGF-I (Insulin-like Growth Factor), high levels of which are present in milk produced with rbGH, to much increased incidence of prostate and breast cancer.

Now, from the quick reading I have done, the science here is far from settled. FDA researchers, in what is now an apparently famous – or infamous, depending on who you ask – paper published in the highly respected journal Science in 1990, concluded that use of this hormone in dairy cattle would not lead to dairy products that are dangerous to humans.

But this paper had some serious flaws:

Among the findings, the agency said that the rbGH in the milk of injected cows was degraded by commercial pasteurization. The sole research cited for this claim was that of a Canadian graduate student, whose master's thesis studied the feeding of rbGH-derived milk to calves (not humans). This study erroneously heated milk for 30 minutes at the 15-second pasteurization temperature.

So, again, it seems safe to say that, despite having been approved by U.S. federal regulators for use in cattle, there are serious concerns that have been raised by some pretty smart people about the use of these hormones.

Which brings us back to the main point here: making informed decisions.

There are dairy companies that go through extraordinary efforts to provide a product that consumers want, a product that they purchase because they think it is potentially safer, or because they don’t agree with pumping cows full of hormones that make them sick, which means they need lots of antibiotics so they don’t die, or perhaps for some other reasons.

In our house, we strictly buy milk from Organic Valley, which, in our nearby Giant Eagle, is more expensive than the other milk products they have. We consider the added expense – which, admittedly, isn’t as big as an imposition for our family as it might be for others – well worth it. The label on Organic Valley milk boxes says “Produced without antibiotics, synthetic hormones, or pesticides,” all three of which Uncle Denny cited as potentially “misleading” terms on milk labels.

One Pennsylvania dairy, Rutter’s, did receive a warning letter, according to this USA Today report, and is fighting back.

Rutter's Dairy Inc., a central Pennsylvania company that sells about 300,000 gallons a week, began promoting its milk as free of artificial hormones this summer. It has fired back at the state decision with full-page newspaper ads and a lobbying campaign. It is also urging customers to protest.

"We just think the consumers are more keenly aware in today's world about where their food comes from and how their food is manufactured or handled," said Rutter's President Todd Rutter.

Rutter’s has made it easy for you to contact your state legislator to complain about this unwarranted decision.

Mark A. Kastel from the Cornucopia Institute -- a great organization and dairy industry watchdog that produced this fantastic report last year on which dairies really live up to the organic standard (Organic Valley – 4 cows out of 5!) and which are just factory farm organic phonies (Horizon – 1 cow, barely!) – told me via email that his organization has been working with others in Pennsylvania to respond to this action, and will be putting out an alert urging Pennsylvanians to contact Gov. Rendell about it.

So, let’s review, shall we:

An unelected state official convenes an advisory board to fix something that he has provided no evidence to support is broken. This was done with no public hearings, no scientifically valid surveys to measure whether consumers actually are being misled, and singles out dairy products, despite the fact that as of January 1, I’ll still be able to go buy beef, pork, and poultry at Giant Eagle under it’s “Nature’s Basket” brand that has the very same misleading claims on its label. Well, that seems… really freaking stupid and, if I might don my little tin foil hat, very suspicious.

To wit, one question that cannot help but be asked is what role Monsanto or big dairy operations played in bringing this issue to the forefront of Mr. Wolff’s agenda.

Monsanto, which reportedly has seen the sales of rgBH slide dramatically, has tried to get federal regulations enacted that would prohibit this very same type of labeling. That effort has stalled. But it’s amazing to see the similarities between Mr. Wolff’s statements and those of Monsanto:

[Monsanto’s] letter to the FTC outlines deceptive advertising and milk promotions that mislead consumers…


“Deceptive labels suggest to consumers that there is something wrong with the milk they have been drinking for the past 13 years. Even though the companies that print these labels know this is not true, they choose to mislead consumers in an effort to charge more money for the same milk."

So, with federal efforts failing, is this the beginning of a state-by-state effort? Has Mr. Wolff or other members of the PA Department of Agriculture met with Monsanto officials or any firms who represent them? Who was on this Food Labeling Advisory Committee? Who selected the members to be on it? Was there any consultation with the Governor’s office before this decision was made?

I’m planning on submitting these questions to the Department. Something stinks in the Keystone State, and its origins are in Harrisburg.


Diane Reifschneider said...

Excellent and well-researched column exposing “Denny” Wolff for the serpent-in-wolf’s clothing that he really is. This situation smells very similar to the California legislature’s 2007 AB 1735 sneak attack to criminalize the production of clean, safe, health-giving raw milk come January 1, 2008.

You should keep a close eye on our California raw milk crisis, and then you will see that the FDA/WTO/Codex Alimentarius genocidal agenda is the absolute lowest common denominator behind Denny Wolff’s behavior—he is indeed an obedient sheep to Monsanto. Monsanto is the menacing influence behind the Codex agriculture and food production threat to our entire planet. I think I even remember watching a video about Codex one time where one of the sinister plots revealed was that all commercial milk shall be injected with rBST, and all milk shall be pasteurized. You can ask Dr. Rima Laibow, Natural Solutions Foundation, if you dare to dig down deeper here.

I bring this to your most urgent attention because Dennis Wolff is “an appointed member of the Agriculture Technical Advisory Committee to the World Trade Organization [read: Codex Alimentarius].” Unless we are willing to allow our Mother Earth to live out her final years playing host to a prison planet scenario, then the genocidal Codex agenda and Dennis Wolf’s role in the global destruction and toxification of the food supply needs to be exposed to its core.

I see you’re a medical writer. FYI, 100% pasture-grazed Raw Colostrum from the world-famous Organic Pastures Dairy Company saved my life from the ravages of Crohn’s disease. Mark McAfee used to belong to the Organic Valley co-op before he dared to go independent and raw. Organic Valley are nice people, but their products do not rise to the level of healing-grade, medicinal food.

Sadly, even the clean, grass-fed raw dairies of the Organic Valley co-op destroy their excess colostrum—what a waste of Mother Nature’s most nearly perfect food. For an intro to the medicinal qualities of raw milk, I invite you to read The Raw Truth About Milk, or The Milk of Human Kindness is Not Pasteurized, both of which are written by William Campbell Douglas II, M.D.

Fillippelli the Cook said...

I appreciate the feedback. I have not read much about colostrum.

Right now, I'm most concerned that, at the very least, there is assurance that those dairies/companies producing a hormone-free product can continue to do unfettered.

That said, the medicinal value of food is an interesting topic. My experience has been, however, that in many cases it's hard to study in any scientifically rigorous way, that is, hard to discern the effects of single foods on health in the context of the larger diet, at least the larger American diet.

BobB said...

You asked who was on this so-called "food labeling advisory committee".
Someone at has obtained a list of members. The list is here: