Several states have looked at banning or imposing arduous restrictions on only one of the above labeling claims. My questions is, if one, why not all?

“Fat free”

“Sugar free”

“Salt free”

“rBST free”

Several states have looked at banning or imposing arduous restrictions on only one of the above labeling claims. My questions is, if one, why not all?

The latest state to enter the fray is Ohio, which is holding firm on plans to enforce a ruling that requires any dairy product carrying an on-package claim that it contains milk from cows not treated with synthetic bovine growth hormones to carry an equally prominent FDA disclaimer noting that there’s no significant difference in milk from treated or non-treated cows. The ruling was reportedly a political compromise to appease rBST supporters.

So far, in every other state, the “fine print” disclaimer in use for several years has sufficed. Most recently, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, before heading out the door to be President Obama’s secretary of health and human services, vetoed similar legislation to limit “rBST-free” labeling in her state. Sebelius, hailed by the Consumers Union and rBST foes, said the law would have impaired the ability of milk marketers to inform consumers about their products.

So Ohio apparently thinks it knows better than the other 49 states, and Buckeye politicos seemingly ignored one of their state’s largest corporations, Kroger, a giant in dairy processing that has banished rBST from the milk it sells through its national supermarket chain. Ohio’s ruling also throws a wrench into labeling uniformity not only for home-state dairies like Smith’s but for nationally branded products sold within its borders like Stonyfield Farm yogurt, one of the first dairy processors to embrace rBST-free labeling. Products that claim to be fat free, sugar free or salt free aren’t required to carry equally prominent labels detailing how they compare to products chockfull of those ingredients, so why rBST?

Many dairy processors, citing a response to consumer demand, have spent time and resources to develop marketing strategies around milk from non-treated cows. In fact, more than half of the nation’s top 100 dairy processors have seen fit to completely or partially discontinue using milk from cows treated with artificial hormones, according to the Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility. At that rate, the issue may soon be moot. I’ve spoken with several processors who personally may believe rBST to be a useful tool and that milk from treated cows is no better or worse that any other kind, but say they must respond to consumer demand.

Who, then, is responsible for mounting a campaign that explains directly to consumers why milk from rBST-treated cows is awesome, or at least on a par with any other milk?  Certainly not milk processors. And Monsanto seemed content to pull strings behind the scenes when it owned Posilac. Could it be that new owner Elanco plans to mount a more dynamic campaign?

According to a report commissioned by Elanco, dairy processors have gained no long-term sales or competitive advantage by going rBST-free. The study, authored by strategic marketing advisor and former IDFA honcho Tom Nagle, says not only has milk not experienced any discernable “sales bump” by making the change, but that no more than 15% of consumers are concerned enough about the issue to change what they buy, and out of those, up to half already buy organic milk. Released late last month, the report included interviews with 10 senior dairy executives and more than 15 consumers studies.

That doesn’t seem like the basis for a consumer-focused “rBST Rocks” campaign, but rather it appears to challenge the claims of processors about why they’ve moved away from rBST. With green fever sweeping the nation, Elanco might consider waging a sustainability-based campaign – fewer cows, less methane, happier planet.

Personally, I’m neither for nor against rBST. I’m for agriculture using sound science to ensure a better future. And I’m for the freedom of dairy processors to market their products as they see fit, as long as they tell the truth. Not from treated cows? Fine – say that. But lawmakers shouldn’t toss up roadblocks to interstate commerce or put processors in the position of undermining what they’ve determined is a competitive advantage.