PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Oakhurst Dairy
Inc. is being sued by Monsanto Co., which alleges that
Oakhurst's marketing campaign that touts its milk as being
free of artificial growth hormones is misleading.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in
Boston, demands that Oakhurst stop advertising that it doesn't
sell milk from hormone-treated cows. It also asks that the
dairy stop putting labels on its milk containers reading
"Our Farmers' Pledge: No Artificial Growth
Monsanto officials said Oakhurst's ads and
labels are deceptive and disparage Monsanto's products with
the inference that milk from untreated cows is better than
milk from hormone-treated cows.
"We believe Oakhurst labels deceive
consumers; they're marketing a perception that one milk
product is safer or of higher quality than other milk,"
said Jennifer Garrett, director of technical services for
Monsanto's dairy business. "Numerous scientific and
regulatory reviews throughout the world demonstrate that
that's unfounded. The milk is the same, and the amount of
protein, fats, nutrients, etc. are all the same."
Oakhurst President Stanley Bennett II said
his dairy sells milk without artificial growth hormones
because of consumer demands. Oakhurst about five years ago
began buying milk only from farms that pledge in writing that
they won't use artificial hormones.
"On principle, it's also a question of
free speech," Bennett said. "The world seems a
little bit discombobulated when somebody attempts to prohibit
you from trying to do the right thing."
Artificial growth hormone is a genetically
engineered veterinary drug given to cows to increase milk
production. Another name for the drug is recombinant bovine
somatotropin, or rBST.
Many people oppose the use of rBST,
believing it is linked to breast cancer and premature puberty
in children. But Monsanto and others argue that no such link
exists. Canada and the European Union have banned the
use of the hormone, but the Food and Drug Administration has
approved it for use in the United States.
Monsanto, which is based in St. Louis and
is the leading producer of rBST, had revenues of $4.7 billion
in 2002. Oakhurst, based in Portland, had sales of $185
million, according to Bennett.
Monsanto spokesman Lee Quarles said
Monsanto has not filed similar lawsuits against other dairies,
but wouldn't say whether more were planned. Monsanto filed
similar suits against two dairies in Illinois about 10 years
ago, and both were settled out of court under confidential
terms, he said.
The suit against Oakhurst claims unfair
competition, unfair business practices and interference with
advantageous business relationships.
According to the suit, the business
relationships between Monsanto and dairy producers who use the
artificial growth hormone have suffered because the farmers
will stop using the treatments.
Bennett said his company makes no claims on
the science involved with growth hormones. "We're
in the business of marketing milk, not Monsanto's drugs,"
Earlier this year, Maine Attorney General
Steven Rowe rejected a request from Monsanto that Maine
abandon its Quality Trademark Seal program that indicates when
milk is free of artificial growth hormones.
Monsanto argued that the seal, which was
adopted in 1994, misleads consumers into thinking that
hormone-free milk is superior to milk using an artificial