I’m on the winning side of an issue! What happened? Am I dreaming?  No. Am I becoming a Republican? OK, absolutely not. And yet… an issue I care deeply about, the freedom to label rBGH-free milk, seems to be going my way. How could that be?

I should be upfront about a few things here. First of all, you don’t have to wait for the stars and the moon to all line up before progressives win on issues among regular Americans. How many people out there want affordable health care for all Americans? And how many of them want mercury in their tuna fish? On the issues, we win.

But then, why is albacore tuna so full of mercury you can take your temperature with it? The public sides with us – but we do not get the government on our side nearly enough. And that’s what’s different now. In state after state, it appears that governments (even conservative ones!) are siding with the people! And with me! WOW!

What Do I Mean By “Winning”?
It’s not that the Dems are on the ascent in Washington. Obviously, assuming Clinton and Obama can stop bickering and start exposing Bomb-Bomb McCain as the right-wing lunatic who doesn’t know that al Qaeda and Iran hate each other that he is, the Dems stand to do very well in November.

I’d like to assume that November will usher in a new era of progressive reform, but I’ve paid too much attention to the farm bill debate to expect miracles from the (Bush Dog) Democratic-led House Ag Committee. In fact, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) House Ag Committee Chair called organic consumers “dumb.” Dumb??!! I’m not holding my breath for any intelligent reforms coming from Rep. Peterson.

And yet – look at what’s happening! First, PA Ag Secretary Dennis Wolff banned rBGH-free labels and Gov. Rendell overturned the ban. New Jersey considered a ban but, after watching PA, didn’t do it. Ohio was on its way to issuing new rules about rBGH-free labels (and still might be) – but they seem to be going back to the drawing board after receiving thousands of comments opposing the new rules and holding a hearing in which the majority of those testifying opposed the rules as well.

Other states that began the process of banning rBGH-free labels (and in some cases, even advertising) seem to be backtracking as well. Those include Kansas, Utah, and Indiana.

That doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods. It seems that each of these states were shocked by the amount of vocal opposition to a labeling ban and they’ve realized that (in many cases) their initial plans are no good. That doesn’t mean they aren’t trying again.

Utah is redrafting its rules, Indiana’s legislature adjourned with nothing passed, and Kansas seems to be moving its effort from the legislature to the KS Dept Ag dairy commissioner. If you live in Utah, stay tuned for a 30-day comment period expected to start sometime in April.

The only other state with anything going on is Missouri… Monsanto’s home turf. Yikes! They’ve got bills in the House and the Senate and it’s important for Missourians to contact their legislators about this ASAP.

So when I say we are winning, that’s what I mean. Who would have thought that some sleazy pro-Monsanto anti-democratic law would have such a hard time passing in states like Kansas and Utah!!! And yet – it’s not in the bag yet. It’s only an encouraging first round.

The Winning Combination
How is that we are doing this well against evil giant Monsanto? To start, the very fact that we’re opposing Monsanto seems to help out. Having a big bad bogeyman is effective and there’s no bogeyman scarier than Monsanto (except for maybe Dick Cheney). When there’s no one to rally people against, it’s a bit harder to spur them into action.

Perhaps the Monsanto factor is also a reason for the wonderful amount of press this issue has attracted. The New York Times did an article, so have local papers in each of the affected states (and even unaffected states like Iowa and Texas), as have progressive publications like Alternet. (Of course, members of Monsanto’s astroturf group AFACT have done their best to get their side out in the press via slimy LTEs and op eds. )

Another reason for the success is the incredible organization we’ve got on our side. Yes, we’ve got the blogs, but behind the scenes there are a large number of groups organizing in opposition to these label bans. That coalition includes groups I’d expect like the National Family Farm Coalition, Organic Consumers’ Association, CREDO, Sierra Club, and Food and Water Watch but it also includes Ben & Jerry’s, the Organic Trade Association, and (the most shocking to me!) Kroger.

I’m on the same side as Kroger? Now I really think I’m dreaming. Well, it’s true and it’s true for a fairly transparent reason. The statistic all of the newspapers are throwing around is that 88% of consumers want rBGH-free labels allowed on their milk. In fact, consumers want more than just labels – they want rBGH-free milk!

After a long campaign to get Starbucks to go rBGH-free, Starbucks finally committed to do so about a year ago. More recently, even Kraft and Wal-Mart have announced rBGH-free lines of cheese/dairy. (Note: This doesn’t mean that ALL Kraft and Wal-Mart dairy is rBGH-free. Just some.) When consumer demand makes unprogressive businesses like Kraft and Wal-Mart start rejecting a product, then I think it’s safe to say that product is a failure!

Beyond retailers’ need to meet their customers’ demands, there’s also a logistics issue at stake. Stores like Kroger do not want to have to fuss with shipping identical milk with different labels to different states. (In fact, I’d bet that’s a bigger issue to them than providing rBGH-free milk because customers want it. If you’ve ever seen a conventional grocery store in a low income neighborhood, you know just how little they care about their customers.)

Given those four factors – great organization, a large coalition, wonderful press coverage, and Monsanto as a bogeyman – we are fighting a pretty good fight. It’s not over yet but it seems if we can keep flooding state governments with comments and testifying at hearings, we might be all right.

Where Do We Go in the Future?
My concern is not only our success on this issue, but on future issues as well. What happens when we don’t have someone as scary as Monsanto to rally against? What happens when we’re working with progressive organizations but Kroger’s on the opposing side?

And for that matter – how can we take the fantastic organization from the rBGH issue and use it on the next issue that comes along? Or what if we continue to work on rBGH but we go on the offensive? I want all milk from cows treated with rBGH labeled as such! I want that label to warn of potential links to cancer! I want those dairy products to describe the harmful effects Monsanto’s product has on cows! Hell, I want rBGH banned (like it is in other countries)!!!

Beyond even that – why can’t we address why our dairy farmers felt pressured to use rBGH in the first place? They can barely stay solvent – and forget making a profit! Companies like Kraft undercut American dairy farmers by importing something called Milk Protein Concentrate (MPC) from overseas for cheap. MPC is basically what’s left from milk (casein and whey protein) after you filter out all of the other nutrients. It’s not even legal to use in most cheeses.

The issues that the rBGH-free labeling coalition has in common are many (even if some members of our coalition might splinter off once we focus on progressive issues other than this labeling ban). We’ve got an incredible amount of organization right now. Let’s stick together after we’ve put the last nail in Monsanto’s coffin, assess our priorities, and then launch future campaigns on other issues!

OrangeClouds115’s blog