Y U R 2 C No rBGH in PA
November 11, 2007 11:35 PM   Subscribe

The Pennsylvania government is worried that consumers will be “confused” by labels such as “pesticide free”, “antibiotic free”, and “contains no artificial hormones”. After all, doing so might seem to imply that products without such labels might be unsafe! PA Secretary of Agriculture Dennis Wolff is very concerned about that sort of “confusion”, which surely has nothing to do with the fact that he owns a 600-acre dairy farm. Oddly, while Mr. Wolff said his office had received many calls from confused consumers, his office was unable to come up with the name of even one consumer who had complained.
posted by kyrademon (27 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

I'm all for all sorts of labeling on our foodstuffs, but if I called a government office to complain about something I wouldn't want them handing out my name to anyone who asked.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 12:29 AM on November 12, 2007

Yeah, but you'd want them to record that someone had called at all. Because otherwise, they might be making up the calls to further their own agendas. Or in this case, the agenda of the regulated industry, while ignoring the interests of the people of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Ed Rendell needs to sort his appointee out and start serving the peoples' interests.
posted by orthogonality at 12:37 AM on November 12, 2007

I bet you could FOIA those names (just not the addresses and other contact information).
posted by salvia at 12:43 AM on November 12, 2007

There shouldn't be labels saying "antibiotic free" because the routine prophylactic use of antibiotics on livestock should be immediately outlawed. It disgusts me how even the most basic practices of good public health can be just pushed aside by an agricultural industry has the privilege of regulating itself.

MRSA is killing more people than AIDS and we're still flooding cows with antibiotics so we can squeeze them closer together and in dirtier quarters. I guess the lesson here is that one regulation helping to keep large scale industrial agriculture dominant is worth 18000 lives a year and rising. Either that, or accept that industry has completely captured departments of agriculture everywhere, and that this situation isn't acceptable.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 1:02 AM on November 12, 2007 [9 favorites]

The logical solution would be to print up some positive promotional labels for regular foods, like: "contains pesticides", "choc-full o' antibiotics" "artificial hormones a-plenty!" and let the market decide.

Does his logic apply only to food? "I am not a crook" didn't work this way.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 1:18 AM on November 12, 2007 [2 favorites]

To clear up the confusion he could learn a lesson from Arrested Development, with labels on organic food saying, "The fresh produce that won't make you sick and kill you".
posted by teem at 1:27 AM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

MRSA is killing more people than AIDS and we're still flooding cows with antibiotics so we can squeeze them closer together and in dirtier quarters. I guess the lesson here is that one regulation helping to keep large scale industrial agriculture dominant is worth 18000 lives a year and rising. Either that, or accept that industry has completely captured departments of agriculture everywhere, and that this situation isn't acceptable.

If theres anything that the past few years have taught me, its that large numbers of human casualties are no impediment to industry profits. Even if you had scientific proof that, say, carbon emissions were drastically changing our climate and endangering hundreds of millions, do you suppose you could find anyone in the government who would care? 18,000 lives a year is a pittance compared to the numbers killed on behalf of other industries, as far as regulators are concerned. It doesn't even show up on these people's radar screens.
posted by Avenger at 1:48 AM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Also, from this link:

In cows treated with rBGH, significant health problems often develop, including a 50 percent increase in the risk of lameness (leg and hoof problems), over a 25 percent increase in the frequency of udder infections (mastitis), and serious animal reproductive problems, i.e., infertility, cystic ovaries, fetal loss and birth defects.

Because rBGH use results in more cases of mastitis, dairy farmers tend to use more antibiotics to combat the infections, the residues of which also may end up in milk and dairy products. These residues can cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals and contribute to the growth of antibiotic resistant bacteria, further undermining the efficacy of some antibiotics in fighting human infections.

Furthermore, recent research has shown conclusively that the levels of a hormone called "insulin-like growth factor-1" (IFG-1) are elevated in dairy products produced from cows treated with rBGH. Canadian and European regulators have found that the FDA completely failed to consider a study that showed how the increased IGF-1 in rBGH milk could survive digestion and make its way into the intestines and blood stream of consumers. These findings are significant because numerous studies now demonstrate that IGF-1 is an important factor in the growth of cancers of the breast, prostate and colon.

All is well, consumers! Your foods are so safe they don't even need warning labels! Labels would merely confuse you!
posted by Avenger at 2:01 AM on November 12, 2007

I just want to say that our media has fallen so far that I was actually astonished that the author of the piece would call out this behavior for what it was, rather than trying to present it in a "fair and balanced" manner.

The non-hormone producers should get together and agree to print "Label Redacted" on all the hormone-free milk. Consumers would soon learn what it meant through word of mouth.
posted by bashos_frog at 4:07 AM on November 12, 2007

I am not so sure that something like this will survive a free speech challenge.
posted by caddis at 4:43 AM on November 12, 2007

They shoud just put a "reg penna dept agr" sticker over it ...
posted by scruss at 4:58 AM on November 12, 2007

"Since becoming Secretary, Wolff has worked with Governor Rendell on a variety of initiatives designed to strengthen Pennsylvania’s agriculture industry insure that consumers remain as unaware as possible about antibiotics and artificial hormones and their use in Pennsylvania's dairy farms, including his own."

Fixed that for 'em!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:20 AM on November 12, 2007

posted by quonsar at 5:57 AM on November 12, 2007

Of course, all customers need to do is buy organic milk, which would be guaranteed not to have the hormones.
posted by delmoi at 6:01 AM on November 12, 2007

The non-hormone producers should get together and agree to print "Label Redacted" on all the hormone-free milk. Consumers would soon learn what it meant through word of mouth.

Except that all milk producers could put that label on their milk. I mean, I'm sure it's already illegal to put a label that says "Proven to Cure Cancer" on a milk bottle, so even the nastiest milk could put that 'label redacted' tag on their milk.

The other problem mentioned, which is actually somewhat legitimate, is that how do you prove the claims? Unlike the "organic" label, there are no standards. It might make sense to limit those labels to true organic compliant products, so that they could be verified as being true.

Also, isn't all milk chock full of cow hormones anyway? I mean, it's intended to be drunk by growing calves. There are lots of people who claim that milk itself is bad for you, and has studies linking it to Parkinson's disease in men and prostate cancer. It could be all quackery, but who knows.
posted by delmoi at 6:14 AM on November 12, 2007

Delmoi, its the type of hormones and the amounts that concern people, not the existence of hormones at all.
posted by odinsdream at 6:53 AM on November 12, 2007

Poison content SO LOW we can't print it here!!!

Next the acrylic lobby will ban 100% cotton labels.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:21 AM on November 12, 2007

The biggest beneficiary of this will obviously be certified organic dairies, as the Rendell administration has basically outlawed any economic benefit of intermediate steps.

Really, though, between this and Schumer killing the tax increase on carried interest of alternative asset managers, I'm wondering how much longer lefties can hold up the Democrats as a party of real change. We Republicans can be accused of cynicism in our appeal to Evangelicals -- but we're twice as sincere as Democrats' appeal to anti-corporate populists...
posted by MattD at 8:37 AM on November 12, 2007

I'm wondering how much longer lefties can hold up the Democrats as a party of real change.

I don't know any lefties who do that. I know plenty of democrats that do, but there's fuckall overlap these days.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 8:43 AM on November 12, 2007

Just some comments, regarding the discussion on dairy farms. I work on a dairy farmer, but not in the US.
Do the milk cows get antibiotics, yes. Do they get hormones to produce more milk here (Canada), no.

What do they get:

The biggest single thing by far are antibiotics to treat mastitis (infection in the mammary glans of a cow). We use an antibiotic called "Special Formula" by pfizer where we inject (up the teat canal) the infected udder quarter of the cow with 10ml every 24 hours until the infection subsides. From the time of the first treatment until 72 hours after the last treatment, the milk is dumped (ie not used for food).

Antibiotics are used at other points in the cows life, before they can milk or the dry period between calves when they are not milking. Is this a problem? Can one test any animal, human or otherwise for antibiotics days or weeks after they were administered? Not that I know of. Are there even still there in trace amounts?

Every time a truck comes and picks up the milk a sample is taken and then a test is done at the dairy before the truck of milk goes into the food supply. If the test shows positive for antibiotics the offending farmer buys the truck (VERY costly).

So where does this leave us? More sensitive tests for antibiotics in milk are developed every few years and put into use. This is the most important thing, if the tests were not there farmers would cheat. Banning antibiotics in dairy cows would not solve the problem, just make more farmers dishonest. So the only REAL solution is more sensitive tests.

One could also choose not to drink milk because they are scared of the antibiotic use, but it would be nice if that decision could be backed up with honest science.

Note: Special Formula is the following antibiotics (and steroid?):
Penicillin G Procaine
Polymyxin B Sulphate
Hydrocortisone Acetate
Hydrocortisone Sodium Succinate
posted by sety at 1:35 PM on November 12, 2007

Sety, I think you misunderstand most people's objection to antibiotics. The routine use of prophylactic antibiotics in livestock is perhaps the single biggest factor contributing to the spread of multidrug resistant bacteria like MRSA. This isn't about antibiotics in milk, it's about epidemiology and keeping antibiotics useful for when we do need them. I don't have a problem with antibiotics being used to treat actual bacterial infections in dairy cows, or even being used to prevent secondary or opportunistic infections in certain circumstances. I don't think most people take issue with that.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 1:50 PM on November 12, 2007

This is fucking typical of my state. Special interests (The Weather Channel [yes, really], Verizon, Shitty Farmers) constantly rolling over the interests of the public. Any other Pennsylvanians will want to check out the only interesting, progressive movement in our commonwealth's politics: PA Clean Sweep. I don't necessarily agree with everything they represent, but the idea of completely wiping out all incumbents is incredibly appealing, and I think it could catch on elsewhere, especially in other states that have a high incidence of corruption. Hell, maybe even nationally.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 1:55 PM on November 12, 2007

The Weather Channel? Tell me more.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:23 PM on November 12, 2007

Here you go. Although I suppose this is national politics, rather than state. Also, a few years old, but it's a good example of how bought PA politicians are.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 3:00 PM on November 12, 2007

I have this sneaking and unpleasant suspicion that MRSA is a plot by the cattle community to wreak revenge on us for the conditions in slaughterhouses over the last century.

I think the chickens might be in on it as well.

Our food has begun to wage biological warfare on us; we are uppercase-fucked.
posted by quin at 4:42 PM on November 12, 2007

I happen to agree that "absence labeling" can be misleading to consumers. You may be politically supportive of it in the case of certain dairy practices, but there are plenty of opportunities for abuse. How would you feel if a cigarette company was using this to make products look safer? I think there are more straightforward ways to get a message across on the label.

delmoi, I'm pretty much morally opposed to USDA Organic animal products. That's not all it's cracked up to be. The better solution is to buy brands that are known to employ good practices, or not buy.
posted by zennie at 8:16 PM on November 12, 2007

All milk contains hormones. Hormones from the cow are naturally present in the milk just as hormones from a human mother are present in breast milk. All milk is tested for antibiotics prior to use in human foods. I have seen whole loads (about 60,000 pounds or more) of milk get rejected because of the presence antibiotics. When the milk is rejected it is usually spread across a field or area of land. In the case of cultured dairy products such as yogurt or cheese, the presence of antibiotics will kill the starter culture used to make the food.
posted by catseatcheese at 11:30 AM on November 14, 2007

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