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More on the Kansas rbGH Hearing

by: Jill Richardson

Wed Dec 03, 2008 at 15:51:17 PM PST

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Kansas has gotten so strange, I'm not even sure Dorothy would recognize it. While several other states have also tried to ban rbGH-free labels on dairy, Kansas seems more determined than most other states to actually go through with it. The labeling bans seemingly went out of vogue months ago, but Kansas held their hearing on the matter yesterday (as JayInPortland reported).

This issue began in Pennsylvania in 2007 when Dennis Wolff decided to ban anyone from labeling milk as rbGH-free. Fortunately Gov. Rendell overturned his decision and Pennsylvanians retained the right to know how their milk was produced. After Pennsylvania, other states took up this cause, supposedly because "all milk is the same" (it's not) and "labels confuse consumers" (they don't). The truth is that consumers do NOT want the cows who produce their milk treated with growth hormones. They've resoundingly rejected rbGH, so much so that Monsanto finally got out of the rbGH business. This is just a desperate last-ditch effort to keep using rbGH by a small minority who have not yet seen the light on it.

Here is what I've gathered from those who were there, as well as a smattering of articles written about the debate in Kansas papers.

Jill Richardson :: More on the Kansas rbGH Hearing
Corrections to this diary: The National Institutes of Health did give a favorable opinion on rBGH, but they didn't have enough information on the mastitis/antibiotic resistance question to give an informed opinion. They said that more research was needed to "Evaluate more thoroughly both clinical and subclinical mastitis in rBST-treated cows and the relationship of mastitis to milk production." The NIH report was March 20, 1991. By the time the FDA approved rBGH in  November 1993, they required Monsanto to put on the rBGH package insert that rBGH increased mastitis rates.

The microbiologist didn't work on rBGH. Her comments on how a big drug company could channel the science to make it look favorable were in general terms.

Also, it's correct that Kansas is trying to ban "rbGH-free" labels. However, Kansas would still allow labels that would indicate that farmers weren't using rBGH. When Dennis Wolff proposed his rules in Pennsylvania, he was trying to ban ANY kind of labeling that would allow consumers to know if the milk came from rBGH-injected cows or not.

Yesterday's hearing about rbGH-free labeling in Kansas allowed those present to testify for approximately 4 minutes apiece. The hearing was standing room only, with over 50 people in attendance.

The Kansas Dept of Ag provided attendees with a "Fact Sheet" that gave some background and summary information about the issue. Unfortunately, some of the information on the fact sheet was incorrect or misleading (for example, it said the World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health both agree with the FDA's conclusions on rbGH... WHO has no position on rbGH and NIH has declined to address it). Furthermore, the only websites listed were pro-rbGH and no scientific opposition to rbGH was given.

The good news is that the testimony was overwhelmingly in opposition to banning rbGH-free labels. 16 testified against, 6 for, and 1 was in the middle. A few people also turned in written testimony but did not speak.

The "against" side (our side) included the International Dairy Foods Association (Clay Hough), the Organic Trade Association (Laura Batcha), consumers, Topeka Natural Food Co-op (manager Devron Forte) and a former microbiologist from Merck, among others. Those who testified mentioned that Wal-Marts are now going 100% rbGH-free and that the state of Indiana concluded that they would not make any move on the rbGH-labeling issue as a state because they felt it should be handled on a national level instead.

The microbiologist testified that the "science" on rbGH was rigged up to get the outcomes they wanted to get. I would agree with that... you don't even need to be a microbiologist to come to that conclusion when you see the research that's been done in favor of rbGH.

Devron Forte, the manager of the Topeka Natural Food Co-op brought up a cooler full of dairy products, each labeled rbGH-free. He thought that there was no way that those companies would label their products differently just for Kansas, making him unable to carry their products any longer. He read a powerful letter from Nancy's Yogurt that described what a nightmare the production and distribution of Nancy's products would be if these rules went through.

The other side - those in favor of a labeling ban - were led by the Monsanto front group AFACT (Carroll Campbell, Kansas dairy farmer and AFACT co-chair). He and four other dairy farmers who use rbGH testified along with the Kansas Dairy Association (director James Reed). They used the same old arguments they always do... milk is healthy, rbGH-free labels are confusing, the media and activist are evil, bla bla bla. No consumers testified for their side, and the Kansas Farm Bureau was not present.

The director of the Kansas Dept of Ag (Adrian Polansky) was not present at the hearing. It will be up to him to read the testimonies and do one of three things:

1. Keep the proposed rules as is (bad)
2. Scrap the proposed rules (good)
3. Start from scratch to revise the rules

We do not know when we will find out what is going to happen. There's a lawsuit going on in Ohio over this same issue and perhaps if that is decided in our favor it will influence Kansas to drop their proposed rules.

Here is a sampling of what Kansans have been reading in their newspapers:

1. Milk Labeling Proposal Draws Ire - Topeka Capital-Journal
2. Battle Over rbGH Labeling Flares in Kansas - Food and Drink Examiner
3. Fight Over Adding Hormones, Labeling Milk Rages On - Reuters
4. Milk Labeling Change Draws Criticism - Topeka Capital-Journal
5. Letter: Not Good for Kansas - Topeka Capital-Journal
6. Hearing Aims to Clear Air on Labeling of Milk - Hutchinson News Online
7. Kansas Looking at Plan for Stricter Labels on Milk - Kansas City Star

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