December 31, 2003 -- CropChoice news --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
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
"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
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.