Dairies to require farmers to quit rBST (23/6/2007)

EXTRACTS: Rodney Smyser, a Rutter's [Dairy] producer from York, said the word came down from Rutter's that Wal-Mart was requiring rBST-free milk and that Rutter's "had no choice."

"The thing that upsets me is that it's a proven technology," Smyser said of rBST. He worries that other products used on dairy cattle might also be banned. "What are they going to go after next?" he said.

GM Watch comment: rBST certainly is a "proven technology." It's proven to make cows sick and to threaten human health. That's why, despite Monsanto's best efforts, its GM cattle drug is banned by almost every other developed country in the world, including even the U.S.'s fellow biotech-bastion, Canada.
Dairies to Require Farmers to Quit rBST
Lancaster Farming, 22 June 2007

LEBANON and YORK, Pa. - Lebanon County dairy farmer Daniel Brandt had a shock June 13 when the milk inspector stopped by with some news.

According to Brandt, the inspector told him that beginning Oct. 1, Swiss Premium Dairy (formerly Wengert's) will be requiring all its producers to supply 100 percent of its milk without using rbST.

Brandt, of Annville, had already heard that Rutter's Dairy in York had notified its farmers of similar news. But Brandt said the announcement from Swiss Premium came "out of the blue." At a meeting last December, he said, the Dean Foods-owned company told farmers it wouldn't require them to give up the production-boosting hormone.

Farmers say that Rutter's and Swiss Premium have cited pressure from retailers as their reason for going rbST-free. Farmers also say they don't expect to receive a premium for rbST-free milk.

Officials at the two dairies were not eager to talk about the situation this week.

"Rutter's is taking steps to ensure that we’re providing to consumers the products they want in order to keep ourselves in business," said Todd Rutter, president of Rutter's Dairy Division. He declined to give more details on the dairy’s plans.

Michael Eiceman, general manager at Swiss Premium, Lebanon, did not return phone calls from Lancaster Farming before press deadlines this week.

Brandt and his brother Karl manage one of the highest producing herds in Pennsylvania, posting a herd average of 31,973 pounds of milk on 96 cows for May, according to dairy herd improvement records from Dairy One.

Brandt has spoken out on the issue of rbST-free milk in the past, helping to rally a meeting in Lebanon County with the county dairy promotion chairperson, Tom Krall.

The trend toward marketing milk as rbST-free is "destroying public perception of the dairy industry," Brandt said.

About 56 percent of Swiss Premium (Wengert's) producers used rbST, according to Brandt, citing figures given by Monsanto about a year ago.

Monsanto markets rbST (recombinant bovine somatotropin) as Posilac.

Brandt estimates a potential gain of 15 pounds of milk per cow per day from using rbST on his intensely managed herd. Monsanto gives a typical figure of 10 pounds increase per cow per day.

Rodney Smyser, a Rutter's producer from York, said the word came down from Rutter's that Wal-Mart was requiring rbST-free milk and that Rutter's "had no choice."

Smyser partners with his brother Robert and has two sons working on the farm, managing a herd of about 75 cows and farming 1,200 acres. The herd average for May was 30,789 pounds of milk on 67 cows.

Smyser’s understanding is that farmers will be asked to sign a notarized document pledging not to use rbST and that the dairy will offer "no premium at all" for the milk.

He said that about 25 percent of the farm's herd receives rbST. The focus is on extending the production period for cows that don’t breed back readily.

A significant part of the Smysers' income is from selling animals for dairy purposes. Rodney Smyser estimates the farm sells 15-20 animals per year to other dairy operations.

Using rbST helps bolster these sales by allowing high-producing cows to stay in the herd longer, according to Smyser. The loss of merchandising revenue from not using rbST may be bigger than the loss of milk production, he said.

"The thing that upsets me is that it's a proven technology," Smyser said of rbST. He worries that other products used on dairy cattle might also be banned. "What are they going to go after next?" he said.

According to Smyser, it's hard for dairy producers to have a united front on the issue because of those who don't use rbST.

"The ones that aren't (using it) really don't care, so we can't band together," he said.

FDA approved rbST for commercial use in 1993. Those defending use of the hormone include Dr. Terry Etherton, head of Penn State's Dairy Science Department and Dennis Wolff, Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture.

"I find this trend alarming," Wolff said this week of dairies requiring rbST-free milk. "Advertising (milk as rbST-free) confuses consumers and puts milk's image at risk."

Wolff said the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is looking into the state's milk marketing law and food code to see if any statutes could apply to the situation.

"They're asking them to give up a management tool," Wolff said. "I haven't heard anyone talk about giving farmers a premium."

He recommended that farmers contact FDA, the federal agency that gives oversight to food labeling.

Wolff said he has heard of similar situations in other states. "I don't think it's just a Pennsylvania problem," he said.

Tim Moyer, chief of support services at the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board, said the definition of milk in the state's milk marketing law makes no mention of rbST or organic milk.

No official appeals have been made to the board regarding the legality of requiring rbST-free milk, according to Moyer.

"We haven't heard from the (dairy) industry to treat it any differently," he said.

In New Jersey, an attempt by the state Department of Agriculture last year to mandate a premium of 76 cents per hundredweight for rbST-free milk was rejected by New Jersey Appellate Court, citing that the New Jersey Department of Agriculture didn’t adequately justify a premium.

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