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Monsanto Intimidates Maine Dairy into Label Compromise

Maine dairy to modify labels
Oakhurst settles with Monsanto over hormone
By Bruce Mohl, Globe Staff, 12/25/2003

Oakhurst Dairy of Portland, Maine, agreed yesterday to add a qualifying
statement to its milk labels to settle a legal dispute over the safety of an
artificial growth hormone manufactured by Monsanto Corp.

The Oakhurst labels currently carry the tagline, "Our Farmers' Pledge: No
Artificial Growth Hormone Used," which Monsanto charged was deceptive
because it implied that Oakhurst milk was safer and healthier than milk from
cows treated with its artificial hormone. St. Louis-based Monsanto is the
only manufacturer of the synthetic hormone, which spurs milk production in
cows.

The new Oakhurst label will carry an additional qualifying statement,
separate from the farmers' pledge and in smaller type. It will say: "FDA
states: No significant difference in milk from cows treated with artificial
growth hormone."

In a joint statement, the two companies said the settlement will allow
Oakhurst to continue to inform its customers that its farmers pledge not to
use the artificial growth hormone while simultaneously stating the US Food
and Drug Administration's position on the hormone.

"Monsanto and Oakhurst jointly support this resolution as a genuine effort
to provide consumers with the information they want and need," the companies
said in their statement.

Other terms of the settlement were not disclosed. Spokespeople for both
companies declined to say whether Monsanto made any financial payment to
Oakhurst as part of the agreement.

Monsanto reached similar out-of-court agreements with two small dairies, in
Illinois and Texas, in 1994. Both companies agreed to modify their labels.

The Oakhurst-Monsanto court fight attracted national attention, with
consumer advocate Ralph Nader saying it was a First Amendment battle and
offering his help to Oakhurst. Many of Oakhurst's customers rallied to its
defense, giving the New England dairy invaluable publicity.

The new Oakhurst label will be very similar to the language used by Ben &
Jerry's, the Vermont-based ice cream company that opposes the treatment of
cows with artificial growth hormone, yet states on its labels that the FDA
has found no significant difference between milk from cows treated with the
hormone and milk from cows that are not.

Monsanto sued Oakhurst in US District Court in Boston in August, almost
three years after Oakhurst first put the farmers' pledge on its milk
cartons. The label had resonated with Oakhurst's consumers, with sales of
the dairy's milk rising 10 percent in each of the years since it was added.

More recently, H.P. Hood and Garelick Farms, New England's two largest
dairies, copied Oakhurst's labels on milk sold in northern New England.

Hood and Garelick Farms officials could not be reached yesterday. Monsanto
declined to say if it was planning any legal action against the two dairy
giants.

Stanley T. Bennett II, president of Oakhurst, told the Globe in September
that his company's labels were designed to tell customers something they
wanted to know. He said he didn't understand genetic science and didn't know
whether his dairy's milk was any better than milk from cows treated with
Posilac, the artificial growth hormone developed by Monsanto a decade ago.

Monsanto says one-third of the nation's dairy cattle are regularly injected
with Posilac, boosting the typical cow's milk production by about a gallon a
day.

Robert Cohen, the New Jersey-based coauthor of "Milk: The Deadly Poison" who
unsuccessfully petitioned the FDA to withdraw its approval of Posilac in
2000, said Oakhurst was caught in a Catch-22. He said Oakhurst's milk may
contain fewer hormones than milk from cows treated with Monsanto's
artificial growth hormone, but it still contains hormones because they
appear naturally in all milk.

"Two glasses of wholesome milk contain the same amount of hormones as one
glass of treated milk," Cohen said. "Should Oakhurst criticize
hormone-treated milk, it would be indicting its own product."

Bruce Mohl can be reached at mohl@globe.com.

© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

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