State of Ohio Drops Label Restrictions on Organic Milk

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–November 3, 2011.  The State of Ohio announced Friday, October 28 it will rescind a regulation that has prohibited organic dairy product labeling from declaring that antibiotics, pesticides or synthetic hormones are not used. In a lawsuit filed by the Organic Trade Association (OTA), the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals found that proposed restrictions violate the First Amendment of the constitution. As a result, Ohio has abandoned the rule, thus allowing labeling to proudly state that organic dairy products are produced in accordance with federal organic standards under the Organic Foods Production Act, and therefore without the use of synthetic growth hormones or antibiotics.

“This is significant for all of us who support what the organic foods are about, and for consumers who carefully read food labels to find out what’s in their food and how it’s produced,” said Christine Bushway, Executive Director and CEO for OTA. “The Sixth Circuit opinion made it clear that states cannot unduly restrict organic labels or consumers’ right to know how their food is produced, and the State of Ohio’s actions today make it clear that the fight to keep labels accurate by OTA, its members, farmers, and consumers was worth it.”

In 2008, the State of Ohio issued an emergency regulation that restricted the free speech rights of organic and conventional farmers and marketers of milk within the State of Ohio. The regulation illegally restricted the right of farmers and marketers to state that some dairy products are produced without the use of synthetic and artificial ingredients.

OTA and its members, including Horizon Organic®, Organic Valley®, and Stonyfield Farm®, appealed a lower court decision that upheld the rule in question to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2010, the Sixth Circuit reversed the lower court decision, agreeing that consumers have a right to know how their dairy products are produced. Critical to the decision was the Court’s reliance on an amicus brief filed by the Center for Food Safety and other organizations that argued that milk produced with synthetic hormones is different than milk produced without it (as all organic milk is).

“Ohio’s abandonment of this misguided rule is a victory for consumers, farmers and manufacturers alike,” said Ms. Bushway, She added, “The organic label is a federally regulated program that provides consumers with the knowledge that their food is produced without the use of antibiotics, pesticides or added growth hormones. Consumers have the right to make informed choices about the foods they eat, and farmers and manufacturers can continue to communicate truthfully with consumers.”

There are many reasons to choose and grow organic foods. Researchers continue to find new evidence of the benefits of organic, including a study that found that organically produced strawberries had higher antioxidant activity, longer shelf life, and fared better in taste tests than conventional berries. Soils on the organic farms are also found to be healthier with higher organic matter, and greater microbial biodiversity. Last spring, two studies performed independently of each other confirm that organically produced food is safer and can actually save money in the long term. Organic agriculture embodies an ecological approach to farming that does not rely on or permit toxic pesticides, chemical fertilizers, genetically engineered organisms, antibiotics, sewage sludge, or irradiation. For more information about why organic is the right choice see Beyond Pesticides’ Organic Food: Eating with a Conscience guide.

Conventional, chemical-intensive agriculture depends on toxic chemicals that poison the soil, as well as the air, water, and consumers of the crops. Organic farmers can use natural pesticides, after exhausting other strategies including crop rotation, cultural practices, beneficial species, etc. However, synthetic chemicals can only be used in organic farming and processing if they are approved by the USDA National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), a process that includes a detailed checklist of possible health and environmental impacts and considers the need for the chemical.

The organic regulatory process provides numerous opportunities for the public to weigh in on what is allowable in organic production. USDA maintains a National List, set by the NOSB, of the synthetic substances that may be used and the non-synthetic substances that may not be used in organic production and handling. The Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) and NOP regulations provide for the sunsetting of listed substances every five years and relies on public comment in evaluating their continuing uses. The public may also file a petition to amend the National List. In both cases, sunset and petition, the NOSB is authorized by OFPA to determine a substance’s status.

TAKE ACTION: Want to make your voice heard? Public participation is vital to the development of organic standards, as farmers and consumers relay their ideas to the board for consideration. The NOSB will meet at the end of this month to decide on a range of issues affecting the future of organic food and farming in the United States. The board will vote to allow or prohibit substances and practices in certified organic food and farming after considering input from any interested members of the public, such as farmers, consumers, food processors, or professionals. Submit your comments to the NOSB regarding nutrient additives, or any other topic that will be debated, by November 13, 2011 in order to have them considered before the meeting. Be sure to specify which issue you are commenting on.

For more information on how you can be involved with the organic regulatory process, see Beyond Pesticides’ Organic Integrity program page.

Source: OTA Press release, beyondpesticides.org

All other unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides