In a major win for member companies of the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), the state of Ohio agreed to drop its regulations for dairy product labels that exceeded federal guidelines for absence claims. This action comes more than three years after IDFA filed a lawsuit against the state to protect members' rights to label truthfully. Ohio's labeling regulation, instituted in 2008 by executive order, limited label information provided to consumers and interfered with dairy companies' First Amendment right to commercial free speech.
Ohio's abandonment of the rule came as part of the settlement of the litigation with IDFA and the Organic Trade Association.
"We're pleased that the state of Ohio has agreed to withdraw its rule and allow our members to continue to make truthful and not misleading claims on their product labels," said Clay Hough, IDFA senior group vice president.
"The agreement upholds our members' constitutional rights and eliminates an impediment to the marketing of dairy products across state lines."
IDFA originally filed the lawsuit in 2008, and filed its appeal in conjunction with the Organic Trade Association (OTA) in 2010. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with consumers' right to know and gutted the Ohio rule, finding that it was unconstitutional.
Ohio has now agreed to abandon the rule rather than trying to revive it, recognizing that the First Amendment allows organic dairy products to proudly state that they are produced in accordance with the organic standards, without the use of synthetic growth hormones, pesticides or antibiotics.
"This is significant for all of us who support what the organic foods are about, and for consumers who carefully read food labels to find out what's in their food and how it's produced," said Christine Bushway, Executive Director and CEO for OTA.
"The Sixth Circuit opinion made it clear that states cannot unduly restrict organic labels or consumers' right to know how their food is produced, and the State of Ohio's actions today make it clear that the fight to keep labels accurate by OTA, its members, farmers and consumers was worth it."
"Ohio's abandonment of this misguided rule is a victory for consumers, farmers and manufacturers alike," said Bushway, adding, "The organic label is a federally regulated program that provides consumers with the knowledge that their food is produced without the use of antibiotics, pesticides or added growth hormones.
"Consumers have the right to make informed choices about the foods they eat, and farmers and manufacturers can continue to communicate truthfully with consumers." PD
—PR Newswire press release