According to NPR, on Sept. 30 a federal court struck down an Ohio ban on dairy products whose labels say they’re made from milk that’s free of hormones that increase cows’ milk production. That means companies that want to say their products are “rbGH free” and “rbST free” and “artificial hormone free” are now free to do so.
But the bigger deal might be that the ruling challenges the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) 17-year-old finding that there’s “no significant difference” between the milk of cows given growth hormone and those that aren’t. Just that sort of distinction, or lack of it actually, is part of the ongoing debate about how to label genetically engineered salmon.
The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit said there is a “compositional difference” between milk from cows given growth hormones and those without. The court gave three reasons they’re different:
- Increased levels of the hormone IGF-1;
- A period of milk with lower nutritional quality during each lactation; and
- Increased somatic cell counts (i.e. more pus in the milk).
But the FDA concluded in 1993 when it approved the growth hormone that the milk shows “no significant difference” in milk from untreated cows. The agency’s rules prevent it from requiring labeling for foods purely on the production process, and so it has not required labeling for rbGH milk.
For the record, the FDA says it’s okay with voluntary labels on hormone-free milk that say the milk is derived from cows not treated with rbGH and that say the agency has found no difference in the milk. But states are the deciders.