The judge assigned to hear the two labeling lawsuits filed last week against the Ohio Department of Agriculture wasted no time getting started on the case. Judge James L. Graham of the Ohio federal district court held a status conference last Tuesday with representatives of all parties involved in the lawsuits filed the day before by IDFA and the Organic Trade Association. During the conference, IDFA asked to have the implementation date of the state's new product labeling rule delayed until the suits can be resolved.
The two lawsuits were consolidated under Graham's jurisdiction, and he immediately asked to meet with representatives from IDFA, OTA, and the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Clay Hough, IDFA senior group vice president and general counsel, who attended the meeting, called it "very productive."
IDFA's suit challenges the state's new regulations regarding the labeling of dairy products using milk from cows not supplemented with artificial growth hormones, also known as rbST. The Organic Trade Association filed a similar lawsuit in the same court.
While IDFA does not oppose the rbST technology and maintains that milk from cows supplemented with this technology is safe and wholesome, it is fighting to defend its members' constitutional right to make truthful and not misleading label claims, including rbST absence claims.
"Ohio's new labeling regulations violate the First Amendment commercial free speech rights of dairy processors to communicate this information on dairy product labels to our consumers," said Hough in an email sent to members last week. "IDFA's suit also maintains that the new rules violate the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution. Finally, this new onerous labeling rule is unnecessary because the 1994 FDA Guidance on rbST absence claims has proven to be effective in Ohio and throughout the country for more than a decade."
According to Hough, IDFA did engage Ohio agriculture officials throughout the regulatory process that led to the imposition of the new rule, but was unable to reach a compromise acceptable to both sides. IDFA members and other dairy processors are now faced with complying with these new labeling requirements by September 19, 2008.
"IDFA does not take this step lightly but feels that the commencement of litigation is the next necessary step in a process to resolve this important dispute not only in Ohio, but throughout the country," Hough said.
Media coverage of the two Ohio lawsuits was driven by an Associated Press story that was picked up by approximately 25 news outlets, including Forbes, CNN Money, Yahoo! Finance, Columbus Dispatch, The Plain Dealer, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal, Toledo Blade, Canton Repository, Lorain Chronicle-Telegram, Marion Star, Lancaster Eagle-Gazette, Springfield Sun News, Kentucky Post, Coschocton Tribune and New Philadelphia Times Reporter, as well as several regional broadcast outlets.
The next conference with the judge has been set for this Friday, July 11, in Columbus, Ohio.
For more information about the lawsuit, click here.