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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has notified some dairies that sell milk in the state that their labels are false or misleading, and need to be changed.
Of the 140 dairy companies whose labels have been reviewed to date, Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff said 16 dairies were using labels that were considered inaccurate or misleading because they contained claims that could not be verified or implying that their product was safer than others through "absence labeling" - telling consumers what is not present in the milk as opposed to what is.
Wolff said claims such as "antibiotic-free" and "pesticide-free" are misleading because all processed milk sold in Pennsylvania is tested a minimum of 10 times to guarantee that it is free of such substances, which are illegal for milk to contain.
"Consumers rely upon the labeling of a product to make decisions about what they buy and what to feed their families," said Wolff. "The department must approve the labels for milk sold in Pennsylvania and we're seeing more and more marketing that is making it hard for consumers to make informed decisions."
Label claims that are inaccurate or that cannot be verified are also being seen in the marketplace. For example, some milk labels contain statements such as "hormone-free," but all milk contains hormones. Some labels also claim the absence of synthetic hormones, but there is no scientific test that can determine the truth of this claim, the official said.
The Department of Agriculture convened a Food Labeling Advisory Committee made up of dietitians, consumer advocates, and food industry representatives earlier this month to discuss potentially misleading labels. The committee urged Wolff to explore the department's authority in labeling oversight.
The 16 permit holders whose products are mislabeled are located in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, and have until Jan. 1 to correct the labels.