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Oakhurst to alter its label

(Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Edward D. Murphy, Portland Press Herald (Maine), 12/25/03: :The Oakhurst label will now feature the following statement: "FDA states: No significant difference in milk from cows treated with artificial growth hormones."

Oakhurst Dairy will change its milk carton labels to settle a lawsuit filed against the Maine milk dealer by chemical giant Monsanto, which manufactures artificial growth hormones for cows.

Oakhurst's familiar red flag stating "Our Farmers' Pledge: No Artificial Growth Hormones Used" will remain. But the bottom of the label will add a disclaimer: "FDA states: No significant difference in milk from cows treated with artificial growth hormones."

Neither Stanley Bennett, the president of the Portland dairy, nor Janice Armstrong, spokeswoman for St. Louis-based Monsanto, would comment beyond a brief written announcement of the settlement.

Bennett said the two sides agreed to keep silent except for the statement, which said the settlement satisfied both companies. Oakhurst said it met its goal of telling consumers that its milk comes from cows that are not treated with hormones. Monsanto said its objective was for consumers to understand that federal authorities have found no problems in milk from cows who are fed growth hormones as part of their diets.

The settlement ends a David vs. Goliath legal struggle that erupted last summer and was watched closely by agribusinesses and environmentalists around the country.

In Maine on Wednesday, several advocates against growth hormones criticized Oakhurst's decision to settle, saying the dairy processor apparently wanted to avoid legal expenses more than it wanted to fight for a principle.

"I think Monsanto got exactly what they wanted," said Thomas Bradley, staff attorney for the Maine Citizen Leadership Fund, which was preparing a "friend of the court" brief in support of Oakhurst. "It's basically a propaganda statement in favor of Monsanto's artificial growth hormone."

Hormones can boost milk production from cows by 5 percent to 15 percent and federal tests have indicated there is no difference between milk from treated cows and those who are untreated. But some farmers said the hormones increase stress for their animals and others say they want to satisfy consumers who don't want any unnecessary additives in their food.

Monsanto filed suit in July, claiming that Oakhurst's labels misled consumers into thinking there's something wrong with milk from cows treated with the hormone. The trial was scheduled to start Jan. 5, but the two sides have held settlement talks for several weeks.

Bradley said he and others are disappointed with the announcement.

"Our position is that Monsanto did not have a good legal case against Oakhurst, and we think Oakhurst could have won this case," Bradley said. "I think the reality is that Oakhurst made a business decision that they didn't want to invest more money in this lawsuit."

He said the settlement could lead the other two major dairies in Maine - Hood and Garelick Farms - to follow suit. Both dairies' labels proclaim their milk as hormone-free.

"It potentially sends the wrong message to other dairies that Oakhurst had a weak case," Bradley said. "Oakhurst barked really loud about how it was not going to be bullied by Monsanto, but, in the end, Monsanto got what it wanted. A lot of people will be disappointed."

Russell Libby, executive director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, said the settlement "helps Monsanto but not consumers."

Libby said his disappointment is offset by the realization that most Maine farmers do not use hormones and Oakhurst will continue to buy only from those who pledge not to. But, he added, "now Oakhurst is in the position of having a weaker label than their competitors," which don't have the disclaimer.

Dale Cole, president of the Maine Dairy Industry Association, said his group supported Oakhurst's freedom to say what is - or, in this case, isn't - in the product it sells. But he said he didn't think the settlement would lead any farmers to start treating their cows with hormones.

Since Maine's three major dairies require farmers to pledge not to use hormones, farmers who do use them have to ship their milk to out-of-state dairies.

Cole also noted that farmers are paid a premium of 20 cents per hundred pounds of milk (about 11.6 gallons) if they sign the pledge. He said the going rate for milk before the premium is about $15.21 a hundredweight, and many farmers think the premium should be raised to about $1.

"We feel if it's something people want or don't want (in their milk), farmers should be compensated by the dairies," Cole said.

Source: http://www.pressherald.com/news/state/031225monsanto.shtml