A new bill on milk labelling standards up for consideration in the Indiana House of Representatives has come under criticism this week by some organisations and producers, which claim it would prevent informed consumer choice if passed.
House Bill 1300, authored by Representative Bill Friend, could prevent some labels on milk sold in the state from using claims that a product is free from growth hormones like Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH).
The bill has been put forward in a bid to prevent mislabelling on milk products, and proposes outlawing any claims that are not supported by laboratory analysis. This would amend the current rules, which allow the use of sworn statements, affidavits, or testimonials.
However, a number of organisations have expressed concern over the proposals, expected to come into place on 1 July, which they say if passed, would make it the only US state to not allow the voluntary labelling on their packaging.
RBGH, also referred to as recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST), is a synthetic variant of the naturally occurring hormone in the pituitary gland of cattle, which can be injected into a cow to increase milk production.
Use of the hormone has become an increasingly hot topic for the dairy industry in recent years.
A growing number of processors and retailers have sought to add a no-rBST label in response to consumer demands for foods free from additives and other artificial added extras.
Wenonah Hauter, executive director for the consumer rights group Food and Water Watch therefore slammed the plans to amend the labelling as being not in the interest of consumers.
"[The house bill] would be a serious infringement on the free speech rights of farmers who want to inform the public about their agricultural practices," she stated. "Indiana's consumers - like consumers nationally - are rejecting milk made with rBGH and have to be given the basic right to choose about the characteristics of the food they buy."
Dr. Michael Hansen, senior food safety scientist from the Consumers Union group also expressed concern over the bill.
"Since the FDA's controversial decision to approve the use of rBGH, questions have only grown about its safety for humans," he stated. "Consumers should have the ability to buy milk from untreated cows if they want to and food labelling allows them to make that choice."
The consumer groups added in a joint letter to all members of the House of Representatives that makers of national and even international brands like Tillamook Cheese and Ben & Jerry's ice cream have moved to using growth hormone-free milk.
Earlier this month, coffee retailer Starbucks said it too has removed all rBGH from its US network of stores.
Monsanto's recombinant bovine growth hormone in not permitted for use in the EU, though has been present in the US since gaining Food and Drug administration approval in 1994.
The hormone, which Monsanto terms a "supplement", is still widely used around the US though. According to the firm's estimates, about one third of the nation's dairy cattle are given rBST.
The company has previously claimed that firms labelling products rBST free are misleading consumers into thinking they are superior to those from cows treated with the hormone.
However, as part of the FDA's initial ruling, critics of the House Bill claim that the FDA, in the proper context, allowed labelling on products to claim: "from cows not treated with rBST."