The FDA on Tuesday released an "interim guidance" on the labelingof milk and milk products from cows that have not been treated withrecombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST). Scheduled for publicationin today's Federal Register, the agency will accept written commentson the guidance for the next 30 days.

The notice states that voluntary labeling of dairy products from cowsnot treated with rBST cannot be labeled as "BST-free" since BST is anaturally occurring hormone in all milk. These products also shouldnot be labeled "rBST- free" because such labeling "may imply acompositional difference between milk from treated and untreatedcows rather than a difference in the way the milk is produced."

The agency suggests that products could be described as coming"from cows not treated with rBST," but adds that "even such astatement ... has the potential to be misunderstood by consumers"because it "may imply that milk from untreated cows is safer or ofhigher quality."

To avoid this, FDA suggests that products labeled "from cows nottreated with rBST" be accompanied by the statement that "nosignificant difference has been shown between milk derived fromrBST-treated and non-rBST-treated cows." FDA also states that"proper context" could be achieved by conveying the company'sreasons -- besides quality or safety -- for choosing not to use milkfrom cows treated with rBST.

Individual states could require dairies that claim not to use rBST tokeep records establishing such claims, the notice says, since there isno test to differentiate between natural and recombinant BST inmilk. States could also establish third-party certification programsand require companies wishing to label their milk to be certified ascoming from cows not treated with rBST. FDA's guidelines areintended only as a model for states, which will have to formulatetheir own regulations.

"The recommended labeling guidelines are in my opinion very anti-consumer," Humane Farming Association consultant John Stauber toldBioWorld. "This is supposed to be a food label ... and BST is a highlytechnical term," he continued, suggesting that some explanation ofBST would be helpful to consumers. Until this month, Stauber was aconsultant to the Pure Food Campaign, an affiliate of Jeremy Rifkin'sFoundation on Economic Trends.

Monsanto spokeswoman Karen Marshall said the company is inagreement with the guidelines. "FDA has said all along that voluntarylabeling is OK as long as it is truthful and not misleading, and that'swhat these interim guidelines look like," she said.

-- Karl A. Thiel Associate Editor

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.