On Monday, the State of Ohio agreed that it would no longer pursue regulations limiting the labeling of organic dairy products.
Previously, Ohio had attempted to prohibit statements on labels that informed consumers that organic dairy products are produced without antibiotics, pesticides or synthetic hormones. After the Organic Trade Association, a membership-based business association for organic agriculture and products in North America, sued the State of Ohio, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with consumers’ right to know about how their food is processed and gutted the Ohio rule, finding that it was unconstitutional.
“The Sixth Circuit opinion made it clear that states cannot unduly restrict organic labels or consumers’ right to know how their food is produced, and the State of Ohio’s actions [this week] make it clear that the fight to keep labels accurate by OTA, its members, farmers and consumers was worth it,” says Christine Bushway, executive director and CEO for OTA.
Rather than trying to revive the rule, Ohio has agreed to abandon it, recognizing that the First Amendment allows organic dairy products to proudly state that they are produced in accordance with organic food standards, without the use of synthetic growth hormones, pesticides or antibiotics.
“This is significant for all of us who support what organic foods are about, and for consumers who carefully read food labels to find out what’s in their food and how it’s produced,” Bushway says.
In 2008, the State of Ohio issued an emergency regulation that restricted the free speech rights of organic and conventional farmers and marketers of milk within the State of Ohio. The regulation illegally restricted the right of farmers and marketers to state that some dairy products are produced without the use of synthetic and artificial ingredients.
OTA and its members, including Horizon Organic, Organic Valley and Stonyfield Farm, appealed a lower court decision that upheld the rule in question to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2010, the Sixth Circuit reversed the lower court decision, agreeing that consumers have a right to know how their dairy products are produced.
Critical to the decision was the Court’s reliance on an amicus brief filed by The Center for Food Safety and other organizations to rule that milk produced with synthetic hormones is different than milk produced without it (such as organic milk).
“Ohio’s abandonment of this misguided rule is a victory for consumers, farmers and manufacturers alike,” Bushway says. “The organic label is a federally regulated program that provides consumers with the knowledge that their food is produced without the use of antibiotics, pesticides or added growth hormones. Consumers have the right to make informed choices about the foods they eat, and farmers and manufacturers can continue to communicate truthfully with consumers.”
OTA was represented by Randy Sunshine of Liner Grode Stein Yankelevitz Sunshine Regensteif & Taylor LLP.
OTA looks forward to continuing the fight for transparency in labeling as part of the Just Label It: We Have a Right to Know initiative that kicked off last month. This initiative is driven by a coalition of more than 400 businesses and organizations interested in bringing about the labeling of genetically engineered foods. The campaign has submitted a petition to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration with the goal of inspiring consumers to contact the FDA to show their support of mandatory labeling of GE foods. Consumers can visit www.justlabelit.org to submit their support of labeling to the FDA.
To learn more about the Organic Trade Association, visit http://www.ota.com.