Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Score One for Monsanto

I thought I was reading The Onion when I happened upon this AP story, which was also carried by my local paper today:

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania is stopping dairies from stamping milk containers with hormone-free labels in a precedent-setting decision being closely watched by the industry.

Synthetic hormones have been used to improve milk production in cows for more than a decade. The chemical has not been detected in milk, so there is no way to test for its use, but a growing number of retailers have been selling and promoting hormone-free products in response to consumer demand.

State Agriculture Secretary Dennis C. Wolff said advertising one brand of milk as free from artificial hormones implies that competitors' milk is not safe, and it often comes with what he said is an unjustified higher price.

"It's kind of like a nuclear arms race," Wolff said. "One dairy does it and the next tries to outdo them. It's absolutely crazy."

I think I am well within my rights to declare Mr. Wolff's office a "Microeconomics Free Zone." I wouldn't use the word "crazy" to describe producers' desire to compete with each other to offer the consumers a product they might like better. Whether the hormone has been shown to affect the milk is irrelevant here. If the statement is true about the production process, the producers should be allowed to label their product as such.


Anonymous said...

It would seem Mr. Wolfe's agenda is to prevent consumers from obtaining better knowledge about the product they are ingesting.

The blog author might go one step further and ask why.

Possibly: To allow large dairies to use hormones to supplement milk production without having to lose market share to those dairies who don't. (political contributions?)

Possibly further: To prevent the loss of sale of hormone supplements from suppliers. (political contributions?)

Onion indeed.

Patrick Trombly said...

On this one, Monsanto is wrong - it should be legal for their competitors to say what's in and not in their own milk - even if that implies that there's something wrong with someone else's milk. In the 1970s Boston used to print on their album jackets "no synthesizers used" - Herbie Hancock I'm sure too no offense.

But I would point out that Monsanto is in the business of making profit for its shareholders, not of applying an even standard, and they are usually on the other end of the stick, with other countries banning their products and with groups such as Greenpeace continuing to insist upon the validity of the long-since and many-times de-bunked (including by both the FDA and USDA) urban legend that Bt corn pollen somehow harms Monarch butterflies.

I'd love a uniform standard too, where Monsanto could sell products where there was no indication that they were harmful to anyone or anything, and other companies could sell their products and be allowed to advertise what was in and not in those products.

But in the absence of such a uniform standard you have to fight every battle to win it - it's a bit like a sporting event in which your team has been victimized by bad calls and finally there's a bad call in your team's favor, you don't go to the ref and say "oh, no, I didn't really get my foot down in bounds."

Lance said...

The fact remains is that cow's naturally produce the growth hormone many other producers abstain from, and subsequently label their milk as 'hormone free'.

The protein helps control milk production and the additional hormone given to cows just supplement the original protein the cow originally has.

It remains that the producers who do not use the hormone actually do provide milk with the hormone, granted, at a lesser extent.

The presence of the label may prove to be a spoke in the wheel to asymmetrical information, providing too much information with little content. Where there remains so much information (i,e. hormone free or not), the consumer may be mislead to buy an item that may not be safe as opposed to an item that is cheaper to produce, but still remains equally as safe.

There is a difference between information and knowledge, and the line should be kept from obfuscation.

Anonymous said...

I used to work for Smith Barney and I get nearly $48,000 a year as a pension plan what happens if Smith Barney and/or Citi Group goes bankrupt? Do I lose my pension plan? I read somewhere that if it is not much above $43,000, it would be guaranteed by someone--the government?

Andrew Samwick said...

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation would presumably take over the plan. See