"Artificial Hormone Free" Milk Labels Soon To Be Illegal In Pennsylvania

Consumer Reports says that “without warning or public discussion” 19 dairies in Pennsylvania were notified that their labels were “false or misleading and need to be changed.” What did the labels say?

“Our farmers’ pledge: no artificial growth hormones;” “From cows not treated with the growth hormone rBST;” and “Free of artificial growth hormones.”

From Consumer Reports:

Some cows are in fact given an artificial hormone, produced by Monsanto. Called recombinant bovine growth hormone (rbGH) or recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST), it is a genetically engineered drug designed to increase milk production. However, farmers who don’t use the drug have discovered that many consumers actually prefer their milk produced the natural way, and those producers are using their non-use of the hormone as a selling point.

We find the PDA’s sudden prohibition against farmers telling consumers they are not using hormones to be surprising, to say the least. Some 13 years ago, shortly after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made its controversial decision to approve the use of hormones, it also issued guidance specifically saying that dairies whose farmers didn’t use the artificial hormone could label their milk as “from cows not treated with rbST/rbGH.”

During the years since then, consumers have increasingly sought out milk from untreated cows. A significant number of stores and chains, including Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Krogers and Publix, now offer milk and other dairy products labeled as coming from cows not treated with rbGH or rbST.

CR says the Monsanto lobbied the FDA, the FTC, and the State of Maine unsuccessfully, but has apparently found a friend in Pennsylvania.

Missing: Truth in milk labeling [Consumer Reports]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Score one for Monsanto… The company that splices the genes of your food with bugs so they they won’t eat it/itself in the fields.

    Why do you hate our freedom, Consumerist?

  2. ViewableOnTheSite says:

    This is already being reconsidered: [www.philly.com]

  3. DallasDMD says:

    In a reasonable society, Monsanto would be barred from doing business and there would be stiff criminal penalties for adulterating food products with garbage like rgbh.

  4. Sherryness says:

    But are their cows given un-artificial hormones? That seems to be the issue they skirt wildly here. I think perhaps the “deceptiveness” they are being accused of is trying to make consumers think their cows are not treated with hormones at all. When really they are – just not the “artificial” kind.

  5. burgundyyears says:

    IIRC, no one’s really ever been able to show any difference in the milk itself if the hormone is used or not. If someone wants to pay $10 for a gallon of milk and pretend like it’s somehow safer, so be it.

  6. hypnotik_jello says:

    Wait, people still drink milk?

  7. Sherryness says:

    Also, if I remenber correctly, Trader Joes’ labels on milk say something like ‘From cows not treated with rbST/rbGH. No studies have shown any difference in milk from cows treated with rbST/rbGH.’ Or something to that effect. I’m paraphrasing.

  8. jeffjohnvol says:

    Why not just change the name of the company to “Hormone free Cows”. They can’t question a company name.

  9. DallasDMD says:

    @burgundyyears: Regardless of whether or not the hormones make it into the milk, the quality of the milk produced by cows on hormones is lower. Quality organic milk does taste better and the cows are much better off not being on hormones.

  10. Hoborg says:
  11. DallasDMD says:
  12. Screw it, I’m buying a cow.

  13. Veal and Milk go hand in hand.

    Keep a cow pregnant and producing veal calves.. you keep getting milk from the cow.

    Just throw the little cow into a box where it can’t move, fatten it up and sell it’s meat off at a premium.

    Profit people… profit.

    (I’m not a vegetarian.. so I’m not preaching here… but I don’t drink milk or eat veal either…)

  14. ironchef says:



    The “scientifc proof” has copy writing greek in it.

  15. Trai_Dep says:

    First, that cat is so adorable, I’ve bought it a cow. A natural cow. So Consumerist, what’s its address so I can FedEx it STAT?

    Second, I understand that you can’t eat hormones and be affected by them. I’m pretty sure they get “eaten”, versus introduced into your bloodstream and give men boobies or whatever.

    But any “farmer” that would inject hormones into cows in this Frankenstein fashion to produce an extra 15% milk is the same sort of jerk that pumps antibiotics and gods know what, and crams Else into shit-caked, cramped pens until the cow’s (heh) milked dry. Then fed alive to jackals.

    I don’t want to contribute to that. I don’t want that into my body. It’s a token fight against mega-big-gov’t-subsidized-GMO-agribusiness, but it’s a fight.

    Thank you.

    And thank YOU, Else, for giving me the pure, clean, white stuff.

  16. Hoborg says:

    really, the FDA requirement should be to require that if rBGH is used in cows which produce the milk in a product, then they put that on the label of the milk. That way consumers who care can read the label and choose what to buy. But advertising that there is NO rBGH in milk is like saying “There’s no rat poison in our milk!” – Obviously there’s no rat poison in any of the milks but it implies that every other milk bottle on the shelf that dosen’t say in big letters NO RAT POISON must contain rat poison.

  17. anonymouscoworker says:

    @DallasDMD: I drank “regular milk since I was a kid, and switched to skim as I got older. My wife doesn’t like the way “regular” milk tastes, so she’s tried all the different soy stuff before giving organic/hormone free a shot.

    I was shocked when the skim milk from the organic carton tasted like 2% milk from when I was a kid. I’m typically skeptical about claims made by companies about organic this and that, but this stuff is really good.

  18. anonymouscoworker says:

    @Hoborg: That would be an accurate analogy if the majority of the milk industry wasn’t using hormones. But they are. If the majority of the industry was using rat poison, I’d like to know which companies are not.

  19. silvanx says:

    I always found explicitly mentioning “rBST” suspicious… makes me wonder what other growth hormone is in there…

  20. The_Truth says:


  21. notallcompaniesarebad says:

    @burgundyyears: “If someone wants to pay $10 for a gallon of milk and pretend like it’s somehow safer, so be it.”
    That’s the key here. The argument is that since no one has been able to show that artificial hormones result in inferior milk, dairies shouldn’t be able to tell people when they haven’t been using it. That’s hogwash. By that argument, you shouldn’t be able to say “10% of profits donated to charity” on a label because that doesn’t impact the product inside. Nothing makes me madder than government treating its people like morons. Let us think for a change. Please.

  22. anatak says:

    @burgundyyears: You are what you eat, baby. There are a whole host of medicines that pregnant or nursing mothers are told to avoid. Why? Mostly to avoid having the chemicals passed from the mother to the child. So whatever they’re pumping that cow full of, expect that to come through in the milk. Antibiotics, hormones and all. In your milk. And yes it is difficult to directly link Monsanto’s milk poison to all of the side effects that researchers are attributing to it – increased cancer growth, earlier menstruation in young girls – but one day, they’ll get theirs. As for my family, we’ll just keep avoiding their products.

    @anonymouscoworker: Somehow, I’m always surprised at how much better the natural food products taste. And how much they remind me of how food in general used to taste.

  23. He says:

    I always thought the reason to buy milk from rBgh-free cows was that the cows suffer less.

  24. lemur says:

    There’s a form on the PDA’s web site to give feedback but anyone got the email address of some big shot’s mailbox over there? Those of us who think the PDA’s action goes against customer choice could give them a piece of our mind.

  25. @Sherryness: But all the labels specify “artificial” hormones. How can that be deceptive?

    Second, I understand that you can’t eat hormones and be affected by them.
    @trai_dep: OK, obviously I’m confused as to how birth control pills work then. Don’t they use artificial hormones? (No, I’m not being sarcastic. I must be confused if this is true.)

  26. Jozef says:

    I don’t see anything new or surprising about this. After all, even such consumer-friendly states as California succumbed to lobbyists and ordered almond producers to keep labeling them as “organic”, even though they are treated by a chemical that’s outlawed in Europe because of its ties to cancer.

  27. KJones says:

    This ain’t news, it’s olds.

    December 2003:

    July 2003:

    March 1994:

    Here is the feeble excuse that Monster-anto and other scumbags are using with the George Putz regime aiding and abetting them.
    + Hormone-free Claims to be Removed From Labeling
    + Four manufacturers of whole milk, reduced-fat
    + milk, and ice cream received warning letters from
    + the FDA in September 2003, informing them that
    + their products are misbranded. The products’
    + labeling contains the false statements “No
    + Hormones” or “Hormone Free.”
    + The warning letters explain that the statements
    + make false claims because all milk contains
    + naturally occurring hormones, and milk cannot be
    + processed in a manner that renders it free of
    + hormones.
    + The FDA also cautioned the firms that the agency
    + could pursue further action such as seizure or
    + injunction, or both, if they fail to take prompt
    + action to correct the labels.

    The real reason was named in another lawsuit (which I can’t find info on). Monster-anto’s whine was that the small company’s label gave them an “unfair competitive advantage” in the market rather than admitting it was what the consumers wanted.

    This is very similar to the issue of advertising in regard to laws: businesses are allowed to lobby for something in the media, but consumer groups and/or environmentalists are banned from speaking *against* something (eg. nobody will sell ad time to Adbusters).

  28. mconfoy says:

    The only natural cattle left are the ones in Africa. Cattle have been bred for characteristics for so long now that natural means what? Certainly not naturally occurring. What difference does it make besides false perceptions?

  29. Omir The Storyteller says:

    All I can tell you is, we switched from buying the milk that grows in plastic jugs on supermarket shelves about a year ago to milk the milkman delivers every Wednesday in paper containers that say “rBGH free” on them. The milk tastes better, we’re supporting a local dairy, my wallet has shed all those unsightly pounds and my granddaughter has taken up the trombone. It’s an American success story!

  30. faust1200 says:

    Nice photo of Kitler.

  31. laserjobs says:

    I thought milk was for calves?

    Anywho, this site has put up some great info on milk

  32. PatrickIs2Smart says:

    @laserjobs: Yeah, about that… We haven’t had enough volunteers for the “People Milk is for People” movement, so cows will remain our best alternative. Thanks for playing the game, though!

  33. Trai_Dep says:

    @Rectilinear Propagation: Oh, good point!

    I was commenting w/ someone here and he swore (swore!) that you had to shoot up hormones to make them “work”, so to end the topic, I ceded that point to him. But you raise a good point. Dayum, I was suckered!!

    So, orally-administered hormones DO affect your system. They’d have to, else oral contraceptives wouldn’t work. So medical AND ethical reasons to avoid hormone-laced milk. Thanks!

  34. Terek Kincaid says:

    Well, it’s one thing to say the cow was not treated with rBST, it is something else entirely to say it is completely free of artificial hormones. How do they know a contaminant in the air didn’t get onto the grass and the cow ate it? It is highly, highly unlikely, but to prove that the cow contains absolutely no artificial hormones, you’d have to test each and every cow for every artificial hormone known to man. Pretty expensive.

    Yes, we get what they are trying to say. However, technically, their claim of “artificial hormone-free” is unsubstantiated, and PA is correct to make them fix it.

  35. davethebutcher says:

    milkismilk.com is made by Center for Global Food Issues, which is a “project of the conservative think-tank, the Hudson Institute” (sourcewatch.org), the hudson Institute received funding from Monsanto in 2002. hmmm, interesting…

  36. dieman says:

    We’ve been buying skim organic ultra-pasteurized lately. Say what you may about ultra-pasteurized, but even after being opened it seems to age slower. My wife is hyper-sensitive to spoiled milk and she has noticed a significant difference since going to ultra-pasteurized.

  37. Mr. Gunn says:

    trai_dep: Tall, cold glass of FAIL for you, my buddy. Look up the difference in peptide hormones vs. steroid hormones. Or go back to writing your screenplay and leave science to the people who know what they’re talking about.

    I’d support this label: From cows not treated with rbST/rbGH. No studies have shown any difference in milk from cows treated with rbST/rbGH We’re just scaring the liberal arts majors into paying more money. Don’t tell anyone.

  38. Trai_Dep says:

    You don’t read very well or your short-term memory is that of a gnat with ADD. Cf* my first point. Oh, and flaming *hurts* your argument. Try keeping it in check long enough to hit the Submit Comment button? Thx.

    * cf, a “liberal” term. Look it up.

  39. notallcompaniesarebad says:

    @Mr. Gunn: Remember that what may be rational to one person is not rational to another. All people are different. I can see people who object to the practice, on principal, even if they can’t taste the difference and it has no impact on the milk itself. For instance, a GAP shirt made by enslaved children is probably not worse than one made by people making $150K a year. However, most people would like to stamp out the practice of child labor and would therefore like to know when they are supporting it. Similarly, people would like to help resurrect sustainable farming, which is why they are willing to pay more for milk from cows that haven’t been given added hormones and pay more for organics in general, even if (this is the important part) there is not a single tangible shred of evidence that their additional spending is making them any better off.

    You can view it as people exercising their rights to support causes they believe in.

  40. jesserock says:

    I love it when people post things like “It’s never been proven that adding hormones to milk is detrimental to your health.”
    How long did second hand smoke and radioactivity get away with being an unproven death inducing factor?

  41. cerbie says:

    @burgundyyears: way to use hyperbole. Try $5, less when on sale, when the normal milk is $4.

  42. alhypo says:

    @mconfoy: Humans have been breeding cattle for 8- to 10-thousand years. Perhaps the good folks in Africa are not as methodical about it as ourselves, but their cattle are by no means “natural” as you have defined it.

    Unless you’re talking about water buffalo and such. But the definition of “cattle” is domesticated bovine.

  43. Trai_Dep says:

    Heh. Yup. That’d be a telling, crushing blow to mconfoy if it was Farmer John, raising his cows on broad, green fields of grass – or as the “Organic” label tries to implement.

    You’re on our side. Milk we give to our kids SHOULD be healthy, farm-raised and wholesome.

    Unfortunately, agribusiness, Monstanto and the Frankenfood industry has delivered us something far from that.

    Free market: someone wants puss-infused milk in Billy’s belly, co-mingled with hormones, while destroying the efficacy of antibiotics by cramming them down cow’s gullets to compensate for the horrible conditions that they squeeze cattle into? Have at it! YOU want to eat shit-encrusted beef? Run like the wind.

    Others might not.

    Label fairly, label accurately. Let the market decide. That’s all we ask.

    How is that a bad thing?

  44. Mr. Gunn says:

    trai_dep: Truth-in-labeling laws exist to protect people like you from being misled by manufacturers. Unfortunately, advocacy groups aren’t subject to the same restrictions. A little information is a dangerous thing.

  45. Trai_Dep says:

    Geez, you’re simply incapable of absorbing information written in paragraph form. I’ve said that – however the hormone debate works out – use of hormones is a proxy for disgusting, foul – or fowl, HA! I’m such a card – methods. I’ve alluded to this in my reply to you. Yet you still lack the comprehension skills to winnow this out from the written word.

    If you can’t handle the reading level in a snarky blog’s comment section, I seriously doubt you have the chops to read anything at a higher level, let alone imparting the results in an unbiased fashion. You’re simply unreliable.

    Try taking a reading comprehension course at your community college. They’re next to free, and it looks like you’ll be aided by a bit more Liberal Arts in your life.