Maine dairy to modify labels
Oakhurst settles with Monsanto over hormone
Oakhurst Dairy of Portland, Maine, agreed yesterday to add a qualifying statement to its milk labels to settle a legal dispute over the safety of an artificial growth hormone manufactured by Monsanto Corp.
The Oakhurst labels currently carry the tagline, "Our Farmers' Pledge: No Artificial Growth Hormone Used," which Monsanto charged was deceptive because it implied that Oakhurst milk was safer and healthier than milk from cows treated with its artificial hormone. St. Louis-based Monsanto is the only manufacturer of the synthetic hormone, which spurs milk production in cows.
The new Oakhurst label will carry an additional qualifying statement, separate from the farmers' pledge and in smaller type. It will say: "FDA states: No significant difference in milk from cows treated with artificial growth hormone."
In a joint statement, the two companies said the settlement will allow Oakhurst to continue to inform its customers that its farmers pledge not to use the artificial growth hormone while simultaneously stating the US Food and Drug Administration's position on the hormone.
"Monsanto and Oakhurst jointly support this resolution as a genuine effort to provide consumers with the information they want and need," the companies said in their statement.
Other terms of the settlement were not disclosed. Spokespeople for both companies declined to say whether Monsanto made any financial payment to Oakhurst as part of the agreement.
Monsanto reached similar out-of-court agreements with two small dairies, in Illinois and Texas, in 1994. Both companies agreed to modify their labels.
The Oakhurst-Monsanto court fight attracted national attention, with consumer advocate Ralph Nader saying it was a First Amendment battle and offering his help to Oakhurst. Many of Oakhurst's customers rallied to its defense, giving the New England dairy invaluable publicity.
The new Oakhurst label will be very similar to the language used by Ben & Jerry's, the Vermont-based ice cream company that opposes the treatment of cows with artificial growth hormone, yet states on its labels that the FDA has found no significant difference between milk from cows treated with the hormone and milk from cows that are not.
Monsanto sued Oakhurst in US District Court in Boston in August, almost three years after Oakhurst first put the farmers' pledge on its milk cartons. The label had resonated with Oakhurst's consumers, with sales of the dairy's milk rising 10 percent in each of the years since it was added.
More recently, H.P. Hood and Garelick Farms, New England's two largest dairies, copied Oakhurst's labels on milk sold in northern New England.
Hood and Garelick Farms officials could not be reached yesterday. Monsanto declined to say if it was planning any legal action against the two dairy giants.
Stanley T. Bennett II, president of Oakhurst, told the Globe in September that his company's labels were designed to tell customers something they wanted to know. He said he didn't understand genetic science and didn't know whether his dairy's milk was any better than milk from cows treated with Posilac, the artificial growth hormone developed by Monsanto a decade ago.
Monsanto says one-third of the nation's dairy cattle are regularly injected with Posilac, boosting the typical cow's milk production by about a gallon a day.
Robert Cohen, the New Jersey-based coauthor of "Milk: The Deadly Poison" who unsuccessfully petitioned the FDA to withdraw its approval of Posilac in 2000, said Oakhurst was caught in a Catch-22. He said Oakhurst's milk may contain fewer hormones than milk from cows treated with Monsanto's artificial growth hormone, but it still contains hormones because they appear naturally in all milk.
"Two glasses of wholesome milk contain the same amount of hormones as one glass of treated milk," Cohen said. "Should Oakhurst criticize hormone-treated milk, it would be indicting its own product."
Bruce Mohl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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