Hope to compete with organic milk
By Bruce Mohl, Globe Staff September 25, 2006
The region's biggest dairies are rushing to rid their bottled milk of artificial growth hormones in a bid to draw back customers who have switched to organic milk.
Dean Foods, which operates the Garelick plant in Franklin, and H.P. Hood, which operates a plant in Agawam, are demanding that regional farmer cooperatives supply them with milk from cows that haven't been injected with synthetic hormones that boost milk production.
Over the next few weeks, jugs of Hood and Garelick milk with labels pledging ``no artificial growth hormones" should start filling supermarket shelves -- a strategy the dairies hope will satisfy the chief concern of consumers going organic and do so at less than half the retail price of organic milk.
``The phenomenal success of organic milk, with growth rates of 20 percent or more, is driving our demand for milk from cows not treated with artificial growth hormones," said John Kaneb, the chief executive of Chelsea-based Hood.
Under federal standards, organic milk is from cows not treated with synthetic hormones or antibiotics; these cows are fed only organically grown food and have access to pastures.
By halting the use of synthetic hormones, which are marketed under the brand name Posilac by Monsanto Corp. of St. Louis, Hood and Dean are bringing their milk one step closer to the organic standard. Their milk is also screened for antibiotics.
Smaller dairies have previously marketed conventional milk produced without synthetic hormones, but the changes taking place now in southern New England represent the first large-scale conversion in the country. If more dairies jump on board, it could be a tipping point in the long-running debate about the safety of using synthetic hormones to spur milk production.
``Even though conventional milk is completely safe and POSILAC is completely safe, some people don't feel comfortable with it," said Marguerite Copel, a spokeswoman for Dallas-based Dean Foods. POSILAC is a trademarked bovine protein product marketed by Monsanto .
Copel said Dean intends to see how consumers react to its new Garelick milk before expanding its hormone-free operations. Dean operates 100 dairy plants nationwide; eight will now be operating with milk from artificial-hormone-free cows.
Whole Foods Markets sells organic milk and a store-brand milk produced from cows not treated with POSILAC. At the chain's Boston store near Symphony Hall, most consumers yesterday were opting for the less expensive store-brand milk.
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