Oakhurst Dairy and Monsanto Corp. had been expected to settle their differences in a federal courtroom earlier this month, but as this issue went to press, it appeared they were instead working on an out-of-court settlement.

Monsanto, a giant agri-chemical company from St Louis, was asking that Oakhurst, of Portland, Maine, be required to curtail its label statement regarding artificial growth hormones. Monsanto is the manufacturer of rBGH.

In December, a motion filed in US District Court in Boston stated the two companies had reached agreement on the elements of a settlement and planned to meet again a week later "for the purpose of completing their settlement discussions."

Both firms declined to comment on how they would resolve their differences, but Oakhurst released a statement indicating it would continue to publicize the fact that its farmers don't use artificial hormones.

"No matter what happens in this case," the statement read, "our goals remain the same-to protect our customer's right to information about where their food comes from, and to maintain our ability to tell our customers what's special about Oakhurst milk, including our farmers' pledge not to use artificial growth hormones."

Monsanto sued two small dairies in Illinois and Texas on similar grounds in 1994 and reached out-of-court settlements with both firms. A Monsanto spokesman said the terms of the settlements were confidential but that both dairies adjusted their labels after the settlement.

Oakhurst's label may be too basic for Monsanto's liking. It reads: "Our Farmers Pledge: No Artificial Growth Hormones."

Ben & Jerry's, makes a similar claim on its labels as Oakhurst but has avoided any legal challenges by adding that the FDA has said there is no significant difference between milk from cows treated with the synthetic hormone and milk from untreated cows.