Yesterday, the state of Ohio agreed to drop its regulations for dairy product labels that several groups say exceeded federal guidelines for absence claims.
This action comes more than three years after the International Dairy Foods Association 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 in a statement. “The agreement upholds our members’ constitutional rights and eliminates an impediment to the marketing of dairy products across state lines.”
After a lower court upheld Ohio’s right to require labeling requirements more stringent than federal guidelines provided by the Food and Drug Administration, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in favor of IDFA in 2010. Specifically, the Appeals Court found that the Ohio rule's absolute ban on compositional claims, such as "rbST Free," and the prohibition against using an asterisk to connect any claim to any disclaimer violated the processors' First Amendment rights.
“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,” according to a statement by Christine Bushway, executive director and chief executive officer for the Organic Trade Association. “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.”
IDFA originally filed the lawsuit in 2008 and filed its appeal in conjunction with the Organic Trade Association in 2010