Is Your Milk Good Enough for Santa?
The FDA should end the confusion.
December 24, 2002
by Dennis T. Avery
With today's emphasis on truth in advertising and consumer rights, why isn’t the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banning the false and misleading advertising of organic dairy products?
I’m looking at a set of “By Nature” brand milk and butter cartons—all with labels stating that these organic products contain “No Pesticides. No Hormones. No antibiotics.” Such labels are becoming more and more common as organic dairy products become big business.
Unfortunately, such labels are false and misleading under the very Federal Food and Drug Administration’s guidelines that have built nationwide consumer trust in food labeling and advertising over the decades.
Labels that imply a dairy product is superior because of what it doesn’t contain are trying to frighten consumers—usually into buying more expensive products.
Without FDA guidelines, a company could frighten lots of consumers by saying, “Our milk contains no lead–based paint.” Of course, no other milk contains lead-based paint, either, but the assertion implies that other milks do.
Why should a milk carton shout that it contains no pesticides when no pesticides are added to any milk or dairy products? Nor do dairymen feed pesticides to their animals.
Milk is tested continuously as it moves from the farm to the consumer, for purity, safety, and quality. Any milk found to contain significant pesticide residues is barred from the market, and the dairy farm that produced it gets a quick visit from health officials.
The “By Nature” labels say their products contain no hormones. That’s silly—and wrong. All milk produced by cows contains hormones as part of the normal biology of the cow. The "no hormone" labels are trying to frighten consumers about milk from cows that get extra-growth hormone. But the milk from such cows contains the same growth hormone found in all milk, and no more of it than is found in other milk. In fact, the FDA says there’s no way to detect any difference. The growth hormone is just protein, like steak, and is digested in our stomachs, like steak.
The FDA even says that a label claiming the milk was produced without additional growth hormone might be required to explain: “No significant difference has been shown between milk derived from cows treated with recombinant bovine growth hormone and milk from those which have not.”
Milk is milk.
Thankfully, most of our milk—both organic and conventional—is fortified with Vitamin D—also a hormone, though few people realize it. This modern miracle prevents rickets in children and osteoporosis in adults.
Any milk carton that says it contains no hormones is trying to manipulate buyers—and, worse, it is lying.
The big differences among the dairy products on the shelves are the clearly labeled processing techniques that somehow change the product, such as “salted butter” or “ultra-pasteurized milk.”
Recent consumer surveys in New York and New Jersey showed that more than 50 percent of consumers at first believed the dairy products with the “no” labels were somehow better than the conventional dairy products. Then, after they got information on the issues, 42 percent thought the “no” labels were misleading.
The FDA and state health authorities should clean up this mislabeling scandal quickly. If you see scaremongering labels in your supermarket, complain to the store manager. Then relax and enjoy your healthful milk, butter, yogurt and cheese. Don’t pay more for dairy products just because some unscrupulous producers are trying to scare you into higher prices.
This article appeared in the Knight-Ridder Tribune on December 4, 2002, and is reprinted with permission.
Dennis T. Avery is based in Churchville, VA, and is director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues.