Ohio milk producers can now state on product labels their dairy products are free from synthetic growth hormones. A state rule that banned “hormone free” labels was found unconstitutional by a federal court.
Since 1993, the synthetic growth hormone rbST has been used to boost milk production in cows. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found no difference between milk from cows treated with the hormone and milk from untreated cows.
Because there was no apparent difference in the milk, an Ohio state labeling rule prohibited “hormone free” labels on milk from untreated cows. Regulators feared “hormone free” labels would mislead consumers into thinking milk from untreated cows was better than conventional milk.
However, an increasing number of consumers want milk from untreated cows. Two dairy processors that refuse milk from cows treated with rbST sued the Ohio Department of Agriculture for the right to label their milk as “rbST hormone free.”
A federal appeals court sided with the dairy processors. It struck down parts of the labeling rule as violating the First Amendment right to free commercial speech.
Looking at more recent evidence, the court found there were some differences between milk from hormone treated cows and milk from untreated cows. The court reasoned that labeling the milk as “rbST hormone free” wasn’t misleading, especially if the label included a disclaimer explaining the FDA found no significant differences in milk from hormone treated and untreated cows.
Over 380 million eggs from an Iowa farm were recalled in August 2010 due to salmonella poisoning. Discovery of the contamination may have been delayed by a communications gap between government inspectors.
According to the Wall Street Journal, US Department of Agriculture (USDA) egg inspectors noticed dirty conditions at the egg packing facility as early as May. There were problems with lots of dead bugs, overflowing trash, and egg yolk residue on equipment.
But the USDA inspectors failed to report the unsanitary conditions to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has overall responsibility for food safety. FDA officials didn’t discover the contamination until they inspected the farm in late August. By then, hundreds of people had been sickened by the eggs.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack defended the USDA inspectors. He explained their job focus was on grading the size and color of eggs, not food safety. However, members of Congress say the USDA missed an opportunity to provide an earlier warning about the health hazard.
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) estimates that 76 million Americans get sick, 300,000 are hospitalized, and 5,000 die each year from consuming unsafe food. Some events in mid-2010 give examples of just how it happens.
The farm voluntarily recalled millions of its eggs beginning August 13. By August 20th, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and others identified a second farm in Iowa that produced and distributed contaminated eggs. By August 24th, the recall covered 550 million eggs.
The exact number of sicknesses linked to the egg-recall won’t be known until mid-September – it takes weeks for someone to develop symptoms after eating a contaminated egg. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), however, estimates that the number could be in the thousands.