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Organic Trade Association's Organic Newsroom: OTA sues to protect organic standards
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2008 Press Releases

 

OTA sues to protect organic standards

For Immediate Release (June 30, 2008)

Contacts:
Holly Givens 413-774-7511, Ext.18 hgivens@ota.com
Sue McGovern 781-648-7157 sue@mcgov.com

ORGANIC TRADE ASSOCIATION CHALLENGES
OHIO'S NEW DAIRY LABELING RULE IN FEDERAL COURT

Files suit to protect integrity of organic standards
& consumers' Constitutional rights to truthful product information

COLUMBUS, Ohio (June 30, 2008) -The Organic Trade Association (OTA) today filed a legal complaint against Ohio's Department of Agriculture, challenging as unconstitutional an "emergency" rule seeking to prevent labeling that tells a consumer whether the cows were treated with rBST, the synthetic growth hormone manufactured and sold by Monsanto under the brand Posilac(r). The lawsuit represents a determined effort not only to protect the consumer's rights to receive truthful information about how organic milk and dairy products are produced, but also to protect the rights of organic dairy farmers and processors to communicate truthfully with consumers,

"The Organic Trade Association firmly believes that consumers have a right to know, and want to know, about the products they purchase, and organic farmers and processors have a right to communicate with their consumers regarding federally regulated organic production practices," stated Caren Wilcox, executive director for the OTA. Attorney Randall J. Sunshine, a partner at Liner Yankelevitz Sunshine & Regenstreif LLP, is representing the OTA in this matter.

The federally mandated USDA National Organic Standards prohibit the use of hormones to promote growth or increase production, genetically engineered organisms (GMOS), antibiotics and toxic, persistent pesticides and have a rigorous system for inspection, certification and verification which protects consumers from false claims. In issuing its rule prohibiting organic products from being labeled "produced with milk from cows that have not been treated with synthetic growth hormones", the State of Ohio, however, has essentially chosen not to recognize the federal Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA).

In a time of unprecedented food and fuel costs, and following a year in which over 3000 of the nation's dairy farms shut their doors, the State of Ohio has stepped in to further exacerbate small dairy farmers' problems. For those farmers who have chosen to not use rBST on their cows, and who were finding new and growing markets by marketing their milk as no-rBST or organic, Ohio has passed an "emergency" rule which will hurt the farmers' ability to convey to consumers how they produce their milk.

Monsanto was the driving force behind getting FDA approval for rBST and then turned its substantial resources towards lobbying the Ohio Department of Agriculture for this new "emergency" rule.

The new rule:

Prohibits labels that communicate agricultural production practices required by law under the OFPA, which OTA's members already follow.

Prohibits labels that are either expressly permitted in a number of states or not prohibited in other states.

Dictates not only the words, but also the form, size, location and even color of the language that must be used on all dairy product labels.

Requires that dairy processors who are alleged to have violated those provisions to be subjected to a range of penalties, including criminal prosecution.

The Ohio rule violates the U.S. Constitution in three distinct ways: First, the Ohio rule violates the OTA members' free speech rights. Second, the OFPA already provides substantial regulation of the organic products industry and preempts enforcement of the Ohio rule with respect to labeling protocols followed by organic dairy farmers. The USDA's National Organic Program already has clear labeling requirements for certified organic labels. Third, the Ohio rule violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution which gives Congress sole authority to regulate interstate commerce. Ohio has violated that prohibition by regulating dairy products outside of Ohio that are shipped into the state and controlling the labeling of dairy products in Ohio that are shipped outside of the state.

"Any restrictions on our members' right to communicate details of federally regulated organic production practices, such as the non-use of added growth hormones and especially those derived from genetic engineering, or the use of pesticides and antibiotics, will hurt organic farmers, producers and processors," concluded Wilcox. "More importantly, the regulations will restrict the rights of consumers to truthful information about the milk produced by organic dairies. Consumers in Ohio have voiced their concern over these new regulations and have written over 1600 letters in opposition to of the regulations to Director Boggs and Governor Strickland. However, these voices have been ignored in favor of Monsanto's sole voice, and that is why we were forced to take this action today."

A similar action has also been filed today by the International Dairy Foods Association, www.idfa.org.

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is the membership-based business association for organic agriculture and products in North America. Its more than 1,700 members include growers, shippers, processors, certifiers, farmers' associations, distributors, importers, exporters, consultants, retailers and others. OTA's mission is to promote and protect the growth of organic trade to benefit the environment, farmers, the public and the economy.


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