Whether Tim Iwig’s glass is half empty or half full, it only contains hormone-free milk.
The Tecumseh dairy farmer doesn’t inject his dairy cows with hormones for a simple reason.
“I care about what goes in our cows because I care about the quality of our milk,” said Iwig, the part-owner of Iwig Family Farm.
Customers of his farm’s milk also care about the hormones, he said, which is why he displays a “hormone-free” label on the glass bottles seen on local grocery store shelves.
A proposed bill before a legislative committee could change that.
Under legislation heard Tuesday in the Senate Agriculture Committee, no agricultural product labels can make claims “supported solely by the sworn statements” of the manufacturers. It appears to target dairy farmers who use hormone-free or similar labels.
The proposal is part of what critics see as a nationwide push by Monsanto Co., which produces recombinant bovine growth hormone, or rBGH.
The Food and Drug Administration in the late 1990s approved use of the hormone, which increases milk production in dairy cows. Canada, Japan and the European Union haven’t approved the hormone, citing concerns over danger to the animals.
But Carrol Campbell, a Cowley County dairy farmer, told the committee the milk produced by cows injected with rBGH is as safe as any other milk. He said allowing labels, such as hormone-free or rBGH-free, leads consumers to believe nonlabeled milk is dangerous.
“All milk contains hormones as a part of the cow’s natural biology,” said Campbell, who is also the co-chairman of Monsanto-backed American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology.
That group has lobbied other states for similar bans on such labels. Pennsylvania passed a prohibition in October but later removed the law, and an Indiana legislator pulled a proposal he had introduced on the issue after he said the controversy needed more study.
So many agricultural groups on both sides of the issue showed up Tuesday morning to testify that the committee will hold a second day of hearings today.
Donn Teske, president of Kansas Farmers Union, called the measure “morally wrong.”
“Why in the world couldn’t a producer say that they do or do not treat their animals with certain products or in certain ways?” he asked.
Teske was backed up by Adrian Polansky, secretary of the Kansas Department of Agriculture. In written testimony, Polansky said farmers ought to choose production methods that work best for them.
“I also believe in a free-market system, and I ardently support consumer choice,” he said.
Under FDA guidelines, dairies can say their milk came from cows not injected with rBGH as long as the label doesn’t claim the product is safer. But supporters of the bill say that is exactly what such labeling implies.
“Too often consumers are confused or misled into believing unsubstantiated or perceived benefits without the aid of sound science,” said Brad Harrelson, a lobbyist with the Kansas Farm Bureau.
Curtis Steenbock, a dairy producer in Longford, said the “scare tactics” of some consumer groups are forcing some dairymen to choose between the bottom line and a hormone-free production.
“In these changing times when you are economically forced to get bigger or get out, rBGH has allowed me to get more milk out of fewer cows,” Steenbock said.
For Iwig, some of his customers want the hormone-free milk.
“I should be able to use that as a selling point,” he said.
James Carlson can be reached at (785) 233-7470 or James.firstname.lastname@example.org.