December 12, 2003

 

 

Monsanto & Oakhurst Dairy To Settle Lawsuit On Artificial Growth Hormone in Dairy Milk

 

Oakhurst Dairy of Portland, Maine, and Monsanto Corp. said Wednesday they are attempting to settle out of court a lawsuit brought by Monsanto claiming that Oakhurst's labels deceptively suggest that the dairy's milk is safer because it doesn't contain artificial growth hormone.

 

A motion filed in US District Court in Boston said the two companies had reached agreement on the elements of a settlement and planned to meet again next week "for the purpose of completing their settlement discussions."

 

Both firms declined to comment on how they would resolve their differences, but Oakhurst released a statement saying that they will continue to refute the accusation of their farmers using the artificial hormone produced by St. Louis-based Monsanto.

 

"No matter what happens in this case," the statement said, "our goals remain the same -- to protect our customer's right to information about where their food comes from, and to maintain our ability to tell our customers what's special about Oakhurst milk, including our farmers' pledge not to use artificial growth hormones."

 

Monsanto sued two small dairies in Illinois and Texas on similar grounds in 1994 and reached out-of-court settlements with both firms. A Monsanto spokesman said the terms of the settlements were confidential but that both dairies adjusted their labels after the settlement.

 

Ben & Jerry's, the Vermont-based ice cream company, makes the same claim on its labels as Oakhurst but has avoided any legal challenges by adding that the US Food and Drug Administration has said there is no significant difference between milk from cows treated with the synthetic hormone and untreated cows.

 

Three years ago, Oakhurst attached a label to its milk cartons stating: "Our farmers pledge: No artificial growth hormones." The label hit a nerve with consumers concerned about the safety of the nation's milk supply; sales of the dairy's milk rose 10% in each of the years since the label was added.

 

But the label didn't raise the ire of Monsanto until H.P. Hood and Garelick Farms, New England's two largest dairies, began selling milk in northern New England with similar labels.

 

Monsanto filed suit against Oakhurst in August, alleging that its labels may technically be accurate but were nevertheless deceptive because they implied that Oakhurst milk was safer than milk from cows injected with the growth hormone.

 

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 produced by Monsanto.


Monsanto, which won approval for Posilac from the FDA a decade ago, says one-third of the nation's dairy cattle are regularly injected with the artificial growth hormone, boosting the typical cow's milk production by about a gallon a day.

 

Opponents of the growth hormone say it gets passed along to milk drinkers and has been linked to cancer and accelerated physical development in boys and girls.

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