Lebanon County Dairy Farmer
I got a bombshell dropped on me this past week when my milk inspector stopped by and said they had a meeting at our dairy (Swiss Premium Dairy, formerly Wengerts Dairy in Lebanon, PA), and have made a final decision to go 100% rBST free. As you may know, our dairy is owned by Dean Foods. They have targeted October 1st as the latest cutoff date to have no producers using rBST. Upon further questioning I was informed that 3 of their largest retailers are requesting rBST-free milk and threatening to pull their product if they don’t comply. At the same time our processor has developed a fine reputation in this area for the great product they supply from local well-kept and run dairy farms. They also said they will not compensate farmers in any way for giving up their right to use this safe, approved product. They admitted the public hasn’t given much pressure yet but this is business and you have to stay ahead of the ball.
Upon talking to the General Manager at the plant the next day, he said he doesn’t want to do this but his arm is being twisted by the retailers and he had to show now some sort of decision or lose his markets. He did say this is a real headache and he would back me 100% in anyway to possibly get this resolved.
It reminds me of the time about 15 years ago that our dairy sold their milk as a AA class dairy and most other milk was sold as single A milk. At that time a number of processors got together and had a ruling passed that their milk was no different and our dairy was informed that they were using “Super-Labeling” and it would no longer be allowed. Update to today – and, we have a much worse and blatant form of this “Super-Labeling” as the FDA put it. With the AA over A, we as farmers had to adhere to stricter bacteria count levels in our milk, but with rBST their is NO difference in the milk. Study after study by both sides of the issue have never been able to show a negative effect of rBST on cow or human. Plus, unlike say antibiotics, it is undetectable in the milk because rBST is the recombinant version of BST and is identical to what the cow produces naturally. This said, a dishonest person can sign a letter saying they are not using the product and continue to! Use it and nobody will ever know but the honest farmer takes the shaft. I have contacted some of the largest producers at our dairy and they all use rBST and have commented how it has made their cows healthier, extended the life of problem breeders, improved their bottom line, etc. At the same time they said they will NOT quit using it.
I personally feel the next step is not to educate the consumer or processor. I think this is great and we should keep doing it but it will not resolve this issue. As you know with the world today, the consumer continues to hear from the few loud extremists out there pushing this issue with no hard evidence to back up any of their claims. Also, we have learned that you cannot educate or negotiate with an extremist because they have their mind made up and also have to have an agenda to continue their funding.
I have talked on the phone with our State Ag Secretary Dennis Wolff, and he is backing me fully and looking into what he can do. I also have the backing of every farm organization I have talked to including the PA Farm Bureau, PA Center for Dairy Excellence, The Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania, Dr Terry Etherton, Distinguished Professor of Animal Nutrition at Penn State, etc. I am in the process of talking with my State Senator and Representative, and am talking to my U.S. Representative Tim Holden who is also Vice Chairman of the US House Ag Committee. I am also seeking legal counsel from one of the top ag lawyers in PA. We as Dairy Farmers need to move fast on this issue. I would like each of you to contact your government officials and inform them what this issue is doing to the dairy industry and the public perception of our products.
I know some of you have signed letters pledging to not use this in hopes of a big payback. You can see that this payback will not come as now our dairy says no compensation, and no one else has gotten more then a few additional cents per hundredweight. Also, this issue goes far beyond just rBST. With this sort of “Super-Labeling”, they will continue to hammer USDA and FDA-approved products that many of us use everyday. In the state of Washington some dairies are now including rumensin-free on milk labels; next will be labels proclaiming the milk was produced without the use of reproductive hormones or oxytocin. We could possibly face a full outlaw of antibiotics. Of course many of these folks, as soon as they or their child gets a sniffle they run to the doctor for an antibiotic.
What we need is something passed by the State Government, Federal Government, and/or the FDA to go above these processors and retailers. This ruling must not allow any form of “Super-Labeling” on dairy products making mention of management tools or products used by dairy farmers that have gone through all the rigors of years of testing and field trials to get USDA and/or FDA approval, is proven safe and effective, and does not change the composition of the product in any way.
I would also encourage the processors and retailers to do a better job of promoting on their products the numerous good things that you get when consuming dairy products. Value added is wonderful, honorable, and beneficial; fear added is not. Proverbs 11:1 reads “A false balance is abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight.” Feel free to e-mail me with any suggestions and/or for updates at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lebanon County Dairy Promotion Chairperson, and Dairy Farmer
Ok, here we are in Dairy month 07 and all is not well. We in the Dairy industry are fast asleep. The retailers are running away with our product, butchering milk’s pristine image. [Which by the way we tiredly try to maintain] Dairymen, get awake or get run over. Stand up for truth. Do not allow the retailers to take away our proven safe, animal health, production and efficiency tools. Do not allow retailers to add activist trigger words to advertisements and containers such as hormones, pesticides, antibiotics, injection etc., and confusing information like BST-free and rumensin-free to milk labels. There are laws protecting the consumer from weight and measure fraud. We need laws protecting the consumer and dairymen from fear and deception. We sat by long enough hoping that what is right and honorable and just will surface. Daniel Brandt and myself have talked to the FDA, the FTC, Dairy leaders, Dairy promoters, and dairymen; everyone sees the problem. But its frustrating because to date there’s been little effective action, but lots of finger pointing. We dairymen and consumers are being taken advantage of. We must [if we have any backbone at all] stand up and demand justice now.