WASHINGTON _ The first bioengineered food product to reach themarketplace, recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST), remains miredin controversy. Monsanto, based in St. Louis, has been marketing rBSTsince February under the name POSILAC.On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy told reporters atthe annual convention of the Food Marketing Institute in Chicago thatconsumers "ought to know" if the milk they buy comes from cows thathave been treated with rBST. He said the Clinton administration iscurrently debating whether or not to take a position on the issue.On Monday, two major milk marketers announced plans to marketrBST-free milk. Land O' Lakes Inc., of St. Paul, Minn., announced anew line of milk, to be marketed under the brand name "Superior" andcertified not to contain rBST. Marigold Foods Inc., of Minneapolis, oneof Land O' Lakes chief rivals in Midwestern markets, announced plansto roll out its rBST-free Kemps Select brand.Meanwhile, Jeremy Rifkin's consumer activist group, the Pure FoodCampaign, is pressing its federal lawsuit against the FDA which wasfiled in February in Wisconsin. The group filed motions on Mondayasking the court to order the FDA to require mandatory labeling of allmilk and dairy products derived from cows injected with rBST."The FDA and the White House should listen to Espy and millions ofconsumers around the country who are demanding labeling of [rBST]milk and dairy products," said Rifkin.The FDA approved rBST last November. The agency has said it doesnot have authority to require labeling since milk produced using rBSTis as safe as other milk and the genetically engineered hormone can'tbe detected in lab tests, making labeling claims unenforceable. InFebruary, the FDA published interim labeling guidelines for milk andmilk products from cows not treated with rBST. The guidelines statethat a "BST-free" label would be misleading since BST is a naturally-occurring hormone found in all milk. The agency suggested that thestatement "from cows not treated with rBST" has the potential to bemisunderstood by consumers because it "may imply that milk fromuntreated cows is safer or higher quality."But states have begun taking labeling matters into their own hands. Inthe last month, Vermont, Maine and Wisconsin have passed legislationallowing for either mandatory or voluntary labeling of rBST-derivedmilk products.Because Land O' Lakes Superior brand milk will need specialhandling, the milk will cost pennies more than regular milk. A Marcheditorial in The Wall Street Journal predicted just such a pricedifference and claimed that dairy farmers oppose rBST because itmeans milk prices, and their profits, will drop. Dairy interests havesecured a legal price floor on milk through lobbying efforts.The Journal wrote: "Since the bovine somatotropin promises to boostproduction by at least 10 percent and lower cost, let's allow itspurveyors to sell their milk below minimum. The bST-free side canmake any claims it wants, and America's thirsty families can choose."

-- Lisa Piercey Washington Editor

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