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14.7.03

Monsanto Sues Dairy In Maine Over Label's Remarks On Hormones

... the Monsanto Company has sued a small milk producer in Portland, Me., over the labeling of its dairy products.

Monsanto has accused Oakhurst Dairy Inc. of engaging in misleading and deceptive marketing practices by carrying labels that seem to disparage the use of artificial growth hormones in cows.

... Oakhurst's products carry the state's quality seal, and the company's milk cartons say, "Our farmers' pledge: no artificial growth hormones."

-- via Ampersand


Oakhurst should launch a countersuit. Monsanto has repeatedly stated, in adverstisements and elsewhere, that its products were good (for consumers, farmers, the environment, etc.). That clearly disparages organic farming practices.

Monsanto's major argument is that growth hormones have been shown to not have any affect on the milk. (I elaborated on that type of claim in a commentary I wrote long ago -- though I should point out that since writing that column I have become agnostic on GM as a whole and pro-labeling).

I'll assume for a moment that the science behind the claim is accurate (I'm not qualified to judge). That still doesn't fully answer objections about growth hormones. Monsanto (and me, in my old commentary) is working under a limited view of consumer interests. This limited view, based on assumptions of rational self-interest, states that the consumer is only interested in, and only bases her purchasing decision on, the inherent qualities of the product -- its size, taste, long-lastingness, healthiness, etc. For many people, the decisive problem with milk produced using hormones is a disagreement with Monsanto's science -- they believe that the milk is different, specifically that it is bad for their health. If Monsanto's science can be shown to be correct, this objection to the milk is answered.

This product quality model works in most cases. But among a certain segment of the consumer population, externalities of the production process are internalized through the production decision. For example, some people will buy American-made products, not because of a belief that American products are better, but out of a desire to support American workers. Similarly, many people buy milk raised without hormones not because of the inherent qualities of the milk, but because they believe that the production process is harmful to the cows.

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