FDA: No Milk Is Hormone-Free

Glass of milk next to carton of milk
Recently the FDA warned four milk producers not to label their products "hormone-free," claiming the labels are misleading.

The FDA says all milk contains naturally occurring hormones.

Urvashi Rangan, the project director of Eco-Labels (a division of the Consumers Union), visited The Early Show on Tuesday to offer some insights into the labeling controversy, and she shared what consumers should look for in a good product label.

The FDA says some dairy producers use a synthetic hormone to increase milk production, but it is so similar to the natural hormone that the later cannot be considered any safer.

Labels claiming hormone-free products can be found on both dairy items, and meats, including milk, yogurt, beef, chicken, lamb and pork.

Rangan explained that consumers need to be aware that all animals contain naturally occurring hormones, so no product is truly hormone-free, making the label misleading. The claim is actually meant to imply that no synthetic or artificial hormones were used in the milk production.

Consumers are better off looking for the "no hormones administered" or "no hormones used" labels which are clearer. But the biggest problem, Rangan added, is that producers who do use hormones in their milk production do not have to label their products as such. Consumers have a fundamental right to know what they are eating, which is why Consumers Union supports mandatory labeling of milk from hormone-treated cows.

Some experts, such as Consumers Union, also believe there are reasons to be cautious about giving extra hormones to dairy cows.

Labeling is part of a credibility test, says Rangan. Eco-Labels' mission, she explains, is to provide consumers with the tools to make intelligent decisions.

Eco-Labels suggest the following to make a good informative label:

Meaningful: Labels claim to provide meaningful information, but Rangan suggests consumers ask themselves if the standards meet the intent of the label. She says a labels that say "free-range" have little meaning; "chemical-free" labels are very confusing; and the label "natural" is misleading because it can mean a variety of things if there is no additional information of whether it was produced in a natural way — it may not be as natural as the consumer is led to believe.

Verifiable: Rangan explains there are two types of labels. "General claim" labels don't have any standards. "Certified" labels have an organization that verifies claims put on the label.

Consistent: The same label on different products should mean the same thing, according to Eco-Labels. In the case of organic, Rangan says the label should be fairly consistent from product to product.

Again, Rangan explains that each consumer has different needs. So, she says labels should give the buyers of products the best information to make the best decision for themselves.