Debate over what is considered milk and how to label it heats up

Debate over what is considered milk and how to label it heats up

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - If you walk through the dairy aisle, there’s quite the variety: two percent, whole milk, almond, and soy milk. Those last two are now in question as the battle over what is considered “milk” is heating up.

Louisiana State Senator Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, has introduced a bill that would remove the term “milk” from anything that is not dairy. For farmers like Mike Brian, it could help sagging profits.

Lawmaker seeks to remove term "milk" from any item that isn't dairy product

“We’re in the middle of three years of extremely low prices and that’s a nationwide thing,” said Brian, owner of Feliciana’s Best Creamery. “It’s all driven over, it’s all over supply, it’s too much milk for the market.”

His dairy farm has been in the family since 1964. His dad started it and passed it down to him.

“It’s not terribly hard,” he said. “The worst thing with us is just it never stops. It’s just every day of the year and it’s just no break from it.”

Brian and his family milk 36 cows and produce a variety of milks, creams, butter, and cheese, but he believes milk alternatives are making it harder for him to continue his business.

“People just aren’t drinking as much milk and these alternative beverages are gaining a higher percentage of the sales,” he said.

Sen. Thompson believes Senate Bill 39, which he authored, is a possible solution.

"What we're trying to do is make sure people know that almond milk is not cow’s milk,” Thompson said.

He says by labeling these milk alternatives as such, it will help consumers understand what they’re buying.

“We’re not trying to affect the, negatively, the other industries and corporations that are trying to sell almond milk or coco milk or something that does not fit the definition that we have in the State of Louisiana,” he said. “Our milk is milked from a cow.”

Michael Neuwirth, a spokesman with Danone North America, which owns companies like Silk, which produce milk alternatives, says further labeling standards are unnecessary.

“Consumers understand the difference between dairy milk and plant-based choices, and as a maker of both dairy and non-dairy foods and beverages we do not believe further labeling standards are necessary, whether they are government or industry proposed. Soy milk, almond milk, and coconut milk are the ‘common and usual’ names for these products under the meaning of FDA regulations, and multiple federal courts have ruled as much in lawsuits on this issue. Today, we communicate on our products in a way that avoids confusion between dairy and plant-based, making clear references to ‘Dairy,’ ‘Dairy free,’ or alternatives as appropriate,” Neuwirth said in a statement.

Soy milk, almond milk, and coconut milk are the “common and usual” names for these products under the meaning of FDA regulations, and multiple federal courts have ruled as much in lawsuits on this issue.

Brian says he believes alternative products should not have any kind of milk labeling.

"We may never gain that market share back, but at least the buying consumer will not, based on the label, be buying a product that’s not equal to milk,” Brian said.

According to Thompson, his bill, if passed, would not do anything until the USDA enforces its current guidelines on milk labeling.

The Louisiana legislative session begins Apr. 8.

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