What will become of, us?

sunsetbarn.jpgGovernment’s cozy relationship with dairy lobby is problem no. 1

By Sherry Bunting, reprinted from Farmshine, October 19, 2018

These are tough times. The strain of a fourth year of flat-lined milk prices is wearing thin on dairy farmers and those who serve them.

And the folks inside the Beltway don’t get it.

Wait, maybe they do.

The Farm Bill has yet to be passed, the mid-term elections are over… and the question continues to be asked: What can be done about the fact that family dairy farms are dropping like flies?

This question has been asked and answered for the better part of three years and the whole decade before that… and still we find ourselves repeating the same words falling on the same deaf ears, pleasant nods, and ‘sincere’ handshakes.

Where does Washington go for the answers? The dairy lobby. In fact, members of Congress will say that nothing gets done without getting National Milk Producers Federation on board.

What’s the deal for the future? A better ‘welfare’ program for small farms to window-dress the rapid and deliberate consolidation that is running rough-shod over their markets and using the Federal Order and other regulated pricing mechanisms to do it.

For years, a decade or more, grassroots dairy farmers have told their legislators to please work on repairing the damage government has already done to dairy farming.

They’ve pleaded with those inside the Beltway to heed the truth on the decades of flawed dietary guidelines and to right the wrongs in our nation’s school lunch program and other institutional feeding programs that are forced to follow these flawed guidelines.

But alas, instead of real change, we get more of the same, while the dairy lobby cheers and applauds over a tiny change allowing schools to serve 1% lowfat flavored milk instead of the prior Obama-era mandate of fat-free.

Meanwhile, nothing changes for regular milk in schools. It’s been fat-free and 1% for a decade now, and we have lost a generation of milk drinkers and stand to lose even more, and all the while our school kids fight increased obesity and diabetes rates, and we wonder, why?

Heck, you can’t even sell whole milk as a fundraiser during school hours, and you can’t give it away to schoolchildren during school hours due to these dietary rules that –according to those who have done a decade of scientific investigation of the research –show are actually not healthy rules for our children in the first place.

Plus, we have the FDA, having looked the other way for more than 10 years, now talking about milk’s standard of identity within a greater framework of “modernizing” standards of identity to “accomplish nutritional goals” — goals that are guided by flawed government dietary guidelines.

Instead of acknowledging the past wrong and immediately setting it right, the FDA adds comment period after comment period to try to read the minds of consumers. They want to know if consumers understand what they are buying when they buy fake milk.

The short answer? survey after survey shows that an overwhelming majority of consumers are, in fact, confused about the nutritional differences between real milk and the imposters — some consumers even believe there is milk in the not-milk ‘milk’.

Meanwhile, more time passes. Farmers are asked to wait. Be patient, while more damage is done by counterfeit claims that steal market share from dairy milk’s rightful place.

And then there’s the regulated milk pricing. What are the odds that any member of Congress will heed the past 10 years of requests for a national hearing now that California has enthusiastically joined the Federal Orders? That was the death nell of more of the same.

“It’s a free market,” say the legislators, regulators and market pundits.

“It’s a global market,” they add further.

No folks. It is a regulated market, and believe me when I tell you, the USDA and the major national footprint cooperatives operate this regulated market in lockstep.

Processors can’t access the administrative hearing process, unless they are cooperative-owned processors.

Farmers can’t access the administrative hearing process, except through their cooperatives.

Ditto on the above when it comes to voting. Bloc voting on behalf of farmers by their cooperative leadership seals every deal.

At a meeting a few months ago in the Southeast with USDA administrators that was intended to talk about multiple component pricing, farmers brought forward their grievances about bloc voting and their concerns about how milk is qualified on their Orders to share in their pool dollars.

What was USDA’s official response? The same response we hear over and over from legislators. “You vote for your co-op boards and they vote for Federal Orders.”

The Federal Orders were implemented in the 1930’s to keep milk available to consumers, to keep producers from being run-over. Today, these Orders are used to move milk from expanding consolidation areas to regions that have small and mid-sized family and multi-generational dairy farms located near consumer populations and competitive markets.

This is not a size thing. This is not small vs. big thing. This is structural change thing that is happening in the dairy industry at an increasingly rapid rate while the lifeblood is sucked right out of our culture of dairy farming.

troxel-sale-2The storm is brewing. Since the beginning of this year, the financial experts have told us that one-third of producers are selling out or contemplating an exit from dairy, that another one-third are not sure where they even stand, and that another one-third are moving forward with plans for expansion within consolidating industry structures.

The thought occurs to me: When the other two-thirds of producers are gone, what will become of that one-third that is still moving forward expanding, undeterred? What will become of the fabric from which their progress emerged? What will become of the next generation with hands-on experience, passion and love of dairy? Who will be raised on a dairy farm in the future? What contributions will be lost when dairy becomes only a business and no longer a business that is also a lifestyle? Who will be the support businesses? How will our communities change? Will all of our dairies in the future be academically run? What will become of our cow sense, our deep roots, our sense of community?

What will become of, us?

GL 4736For years we have heard “there’s a place for every size dairy in this industry.” That phrase is how we get small and mid-sized farms to advocate with consumers about modern farming so they will accept a more consolidated dairy farming picture.

Now that we are reaching this point, will we hear the large consolidating integrators say the same in reverse? Will they slow down, push pause, and realize there IS a place for the diversity of farms that make this industry the shining star it is and could be?

While at World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin in October, the strain of now a fourth year of low prices was evident. Attendance “felt” lower even if the official numbers don’t totally reflect it.

Show entries were down. Traffic among trade show exhibitors was interesting and steady, but ‘off’ and ‘different.’

Dairy farmers are struggling. Large, small, and in between, these times are tough, and clear answers are elusive.

Dairy farmers remain paralyzed by three things:

1) the inability to have an effect on their circumstances or seat at the decision table;

2) lack of understanding of an incredibly complex regulated market; and

3) the innate desire to trust the establishment that handles their milk because they are too busy milking, managing and caring for cows, not to mention the land, to handle the milk marketing themselves.

Just think about this for a moment. In the past four years, National Milk Producers Federation has created and implemented the F.A.R.M. program where someone can come in and put you on a list for a subjective heifer bedding evaluation, where more is being not asked, but demanded, while at the same time, the pay price from which to do more is declining.

The milk checkoff programs continue to focus on partnerships. All kinds of efforts emerge to give away milk and dairy, and meanwhile supermarket wars by large integrating retailers push milk further into a commodity corner from which all imposters can brand their ‘more than’ and ‘less than’ marketing claims.

What we learned at some of the seminars at World Dairy Expo is that nothing will change in the milk pricing system, that it’s a free market, a global market, and that the best Congress can do is improve the margin protection program and other insurance options so farmers have the tools to deal with it.

I’m here to tell you that as long as this remains true, no farmer should be ashamed to use these tools even if it means receiving taxpayer dollars because it is the government’s actions and inaction over a decade or more that have created the problems in milk pricing and marketing today, and furthermore, the government shows no sign of wanting to let go of its stranglehold on dietary guidelines, how it enforces dairy’s standard of identity in fraudulent labeling, nor how it conspires with the dairy lobby — made up of the nation’s largest cooperatives — to regulate pricing in a way that further consolidates the dairy industry.

And by the way, all of the rhetoric on trade and NAFTA and Canada’s supply management system and Class 7 pricing has been nothing more than a smokescreen.

wGDC18-Day1-56Trade is important, but again, we have reached a point where 2018 is seeing the demise of dairy farms at rapid rates while exports continue to set new records. As of Oct. 5, 2018, U.S. dairy exports for the first 8 months of the year (Jan-Aug) accounted for a record-setting 16.6% of milk production on a solids basis. That’s the largest ever percentage of the largest ever milk production total – more of the more – in the history of the U.S. dairy industry’s recordkeeping.

In fact, traders will be the first to tell you that “more exports” don’t translate into “better farm milk prices” because the export markets are largely commodity clearing markets and they are fueling expansion of commodity processing in areas of the U.S. where it is easiest to export to Asia and Mexico. A global supply-chain is in the works.

The exports, in fact, are diluting the Federal Order pricing at the same rapid rate as declines in consumer fluid milk consumption, putting severe pressure on eastern markets in particular.

Meanwhile, the eastern milk markets are extremely tight on milk. This information is sourced to cooperative managers and the independent USDA Dairy Market News. Plants are seeking milk and not receiving it. Trucker shortages are complicating the problem. State regulated pricing mechanisms, such as in Pennsylvania, still interfere, making milk cheaper to bring in than to use what is here. In some Federal Orders to the south, this is also the case because of how their pools are administrated.

We are seeing the vicious circle of self-fulfilling prophecies. Producers who want to operate 50 cow, 100 cow, 300 cow, 500 cow, 1000 cow, 1500 cow dairy farms in the eastern U.S. within a day’s drive of the largest population are in jeopardy. They have lost their location advantage but continue to deal with the disadvantages. As milk tightens they are not seeing their premiums return, instead some farmers report getting docked by their co-ops for not making enough milk, or they are socked with incredible hauling rates because their milk was hauled out while other milk was hauled in.

What can Congress do? Hold that national hearing on milk pricing. Give farmers a seat at the table apart from the company-store. Learn what is happening. See government’s role in it.

Dear Congress, if you really want to know what to do, look in the mirror.

Before it’s too late, please right the fundamental wrongs government has done to our dairy consumers and dairy farmers as it controls what fat level of milk kids are permitted to drink at school, how milk is priced, how milk is marketed and how milk is allowed to be advertised and promoted with farmers’ own money – while at the same time still turning a blind eye and deaf ear to loss-leading supermarket wars that operate off the backs of farmers and the processing industry’s pillaging of milk’s market share with nondairy imposters.

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ReplyForward

New PMMB consumer rep sees dairy crisis from outside-in

Dr. Carol Hardbarger is digging in and looking at all angles of PA dairy crisis.

Hardbarger9825 (1).jpgBy Sherry Bunting, from Farmshine, Sept. 7, 2018

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Solving problems, bridging gaps, making connections, bringing different interests together – these are skills Carol Hardbarger, Ph.D. has been using throughout her career in education. Today, she brings a unique combination of skills and background to the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board (PMMB). She was appointed by Gov. Tom Wolf in May and confirmed by the Senate in June.

“It is a tremendous honor for this to come at the end of my career, to be asked by Governor Wolf, to meet with Senators during confirmation, and to have this opportunity to do something for the state and the dairy industry I love,” Hardbarger said in a recent interview with Farmshine at the PMMB offices in Harrisburg.

She reflects on that call from the Governor’s office, telling her she had been nominated and asking if she would serve. She promptly began looking at the information on what the PMMB does.

“There is a crisis in the dairy industry,” says Dr. Hardbarger. “Oftentimes, when there is a problem, there is a solution that can be obvious to someone looking at the problem from the outside, to go back to what the objectives are of an organization or project at hand, looking at what has been done and why it hasn’t worked.”

She talks about the smaller steps that may be missed in trying to get to an end goal.

“That’s how my brain is wired,” the intense, but easy-to-talk-to Hardbarger says with a smile. She is a big-picture thinker with an obvious knack for process details.

In every job before retirement, she was brought in to help solve a problem and was able to deal successfully with those situations.

The dairy industry issues go well beyond the regulatory aspects of the PMMB. As the board’s consumer representative, Hardbarger seeks a broader role in marketing and advocacy that is refreshing.

She has rolled up her sleeves to dig in, confessing that she loves an intellectual challenge.

Her intention to spend one day a week at the PMMB offices in Harrisburg, quickly became two days a week and has now evolved into a full-time 40- to 50-hour work week.

Hardbarger serves on the board with dairy producers Jim Van Blarcom of Bradford County and Rob Barley (chair) of Lancaster County. They are also putting more time in their roles.

“That’s okay,” she says. “In order to accomplish what the Governor and Senators have communicated, that level of time and organization is necessary.”

She spends her time combing through records, meeting with government and industry entities, opening lines of communication, and being helpful to staff, which has been reduced in recent years by unfilled retirements.

Hardbarger sees external communication and a visible, accessible board on “advocacy things” as vital for developing the relationships that lead to solving problems.

She started the PMMB facebook page and twitter feed (@PAMilkBoard), as well as an email newsletter to legislators and industry that will eventually broaden to consumers. She also helped organize upcoming listening sessions. There is no need to pre-register or pre-submit comments, and the board urges those who can’t attend to send comments electronically to ra-pmmb@pa.gov.

The first listening session was held Sept. 26 from 6 to 9 p.m. in western Pennsylvania. The second will be Oct. 16 at Troy Fairgrounds in northern Pennsylvania, and another is being planned for southeastern Pennsylvania, potentially in Lebanon in November.

In the office with staff through the week, Hardbarger says Pennsylvania’s dairy industry is lucky to have these individuals, who are “highly capable and dedicated in jobs that are not easy.”

On the road forward, she sees a starting point is identifying where there is agreement.

“We have to start with what we all agree are issues to address. Otherwise, we are just putting on band-aids,” says Hardbarger, explaining that such a “holistic approach” is a way for deep-rooted past, present and future issues to be addressed for the long-term.

“I have some concern as I listen to the various constituency groups in the dairy industry — the farmers, the dealers, the retailers, the consumers — that when they speak, for the most part, I hear a lot of individual agenda,” she relates. “I believe strongly that we must be able to look at the agendas of all the groups and somehow integrate them to come up with solutions and prioritize them.”

When Hardbarger talks about “systemic solutions,” as she did in her Senate confirmation hearing, she means the longstanding parts of the system that are “built into how the industry operates.”

She gives the example that some are talking about “temporarily suspending” the minimum milk price, which would require changes in the law.

“We told the Senate that we want to look at some legislative items and see what makes sense for 2018 and 2019,” says Hardbarger.

Another example is some want the over-order premium to end.

“They believe it is not working the way it needs to,” she says. “We are not hearing many suggestions to raise the over-order premium. It will be interesting to see what comments and ideas we get at the upcoming listening sessions.”

The challenge is, according to Hardbarger, “how do we blend a holistic approach to a problem and how it developed systemically over the years with legislation and regulation that was implemented in a time very much different from today.”

She says the board is taking a neutral approach as they look at impacts.

“There are some misconceptions about what the board can and cannot do… so I hope the newsletter and outreach will develop good lines of communication with the legislature while correcting misconceptions and give us the ability to come back to the Assembly with information they need,” Hardbarger relates. “We obviously have the two laws we are responsible for with the associated regulations. But as our name implies, we are ‘marketing.’”

Through facebook and twitter, Hardbarger posts things she sees every day of interest to dairy. The newsletter will eventually include a calendar, an information piece from the chairman, questions and answers by staff, and the school nutrition aspect will be discussed.

Asked why the PMMB’s facebook and twitter profile picture is the PA Preferred logo, Hardbarger responded simply: “We want to promote Pennsylvania dairy products.”

She gave the example of a recent step — sending information to retailers and processors on how special milk promotions can legally be done, and suggesting such promotions be linked to PA Preferred milk.

Hardbarger says she wants PMMB’s communications to be an information clearinghouse between the industry and the legislature and ultimately the consumer.

In developing her role as consumer representative, she is already pursuing relationships with consumer groups and civic organizations to provide information about the nutritional benefits of consuming dairy products and what the industry means to Pennsylvania and its communities.

For example, Hardbarger has already reached out to school nutrition officials with ideas about how milk and dairy are nutritionally assessed within the USDA meal profile for school breakfast, lunch and after school programs.

“If milk and dairy products were separated from the nutritional analysis… we may see schools offer more milk and dairy in the morning and after school programs without having to fit into a total nutrition analysis,” she suggests, adding that this idea is being provided to Representative G.T. Thompson, who sits on the Congressional workforce and education committee as well as to U.S. Senators Pat Toomey and Bob Casey.

“We are also communicating with USDA on this issue of getting whole milk (unflavored) in the schools along with now flavored 1% milk,” she said.

PMMB also sent official comments to the FDA docket to enforce and uphold milk’s standard of identity, and sent emails encouraging others to do so.

Hardbarger understands the nutritional tightrope schools walk to serve foods and milk that students enjoy and will consume. She is aware of the steady drumbeat of scientific studies showing dairy as a complete protein and complete source of vitamins and minerals children today are lacking, as well as the positive dietary revelations about whole milk and full fat dairy, especially for children.

She remembers her youth and spending much time on her grandparents’ dairy farm in northern Maryland, of making and consuming everything from homemade cottage cheese, butter and farmers cheese to whipped cream pies.

And she reminisces about doing just about every chore on that diversified farm, pointing out a decades-old framed photo of her son as a child milking one of four Jersey cows the family kept at that time.

While her career has been in education and technology, she is quick to point out that she has been around farmers and agriculture all of her life.

“There is a passion people have for this life, this business. And the dairy industry is vital to the economy of our state and a big part of what defines us, of who we are,” the proud mother and grandmother two-generations removed from dairy farming explains.

Since her first day on the PMMB in early July, Hardbarger has encountered “no real surprises” but a fuller understanding of issues that have swirled for years.

What surprises her is “the differences of opinion among constituent groups and their differing opinions about what needs to be done,” and seeing how far the industry is from dealing with differences over coffee and a handshake.

“Now we have groups with lawyers and CPAs and very strong individual agendas,” Hardbarger observes. “That has surprised me. I wasn’t aware of how fractured it is. This is an observation, not a criticism, because each constituency has a business interest to protect.”

From staff development to planning a staff retreat, to emailing staff for their ideas, Hardbarger says the momentum is “forward,” even though it’s “frustrating” to learn that state bureaucracies do not move as quickly as desired and there are regulations for literally everything.

“We can’t” are words she does not like to hear.

“There are very few things in this world that cannot be done. It may be that we need to do them in a different or particular way,” says Hardbarger. “We have to fix this dairy crisis, and we can, if we get all the players involved.”

Toward that end, Hardbarger says her next goal is to have the PMMB work with other agencies in forming a “rapid response team” for dairy.

“We hear stories about how a vital bridge can be fixed within 40 days… how the state government made it easier to deal with regulatory processes and provided waivers to make something happen, fast, because it was economically feasible to do that,” she says. “Pennsylvania has a Dairy Development plan… and we need the same ‘rapid response’ in dealing with our dairy crisis.”

Looking ahead, she is most hopeful that, “We can get a working group together of one or two representatives of each constituency group… and start hammering out solutions to our problems, to talk honestly face-to-face about the issues and come up with a few solutions that will work, and that my time here will be productive.”

Adds Hardbarger: “The most rewarding thing so far is the people I’ve met. There is nothing like coming into the office in the morning and seeing smiles and enthusiasm among the staff and having positive responses and feedback from Senate and House staff, to see us moving in a direction.”

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PHOTO CAPTION Hardbarger9825

Retired education and technology expert Carol Hardbarger, Ph.D., of Newport, talks about the dairy crisis and her role as the new consumer representative on the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board during a recent interview at the PMMB offices in Harrisburg. She says the Bonnie Mohr painting behind her is a favorite reminder of youthful days spent on her grandparents’ dairy farm. “It also reminds me that the number of dairy farms throughout Pennsylvania help define who we are as a state,” she says. Photo by Sherry Bunting

 

NY’s ESF Wagyu dispersal Sept. 22: Japan’s ‘national treasure’ brings top-shelf flavor to beef

Niche cross-breeding opportunity seen for dairy

By Sherry Bunting, originally published in Farmshine, Sept. 14, 2018

ESF-1.jpg

NEW BERLIN, N.Y. — Their frame and appearance could be deemed more dairy than beef. Their meat is prized above all for flavor and tenderness. At hotels and resorts, Wagyu beef is top-of-the-line. If you’ve eaten the real thing, you know it.

In Japan, the Wagyu are a longstanding national treasure.

In the U.S., they have been the pride and joy of breeders like Donald ‘Doc’ Sherwood, DVM. He has been breeding full-blood Wagyu beef cattle for 17 years at his Empire State Farm near Binghamton, New York.

On Saturday, September 22nd, 100 lots of elite Wagyu cattle and genetics will sell in the Empire State Farm (ESF) ‘Final Chapter’ herd dispersal at the Hosking Sales facility in New Berlin.

The sale will feature young and mature cows, bred and open heifers, herd sire prospects, embryo recipient cows, cow/calf pairs, embryos and semen.

Cow Buyer will be in the house for online bidding as well.

The retired veterinarian once bred some top purebred Holstein dairy cattle under the ESF prefix in a joint venture several decades ago, with one of his sons, who previously had a dairy farm. They sold some ESF dairy cattle to Japan.

Years later, in 2001, Dr. Sherwood began importing the Japanese Wagyu beef cattle and developed full-blood genetics — taking his love of bovines in a different direction toward the elite melt-in-your-mouth beef of the Wagyu.

“I was interested in the disposition of these animals and the quality of their meat,” Sherwood recalls in a phone interview with Farmshine this week. “I researched them, and I realized they were a fit for me. There were not too many breeders at the time, and their disposition made it possible for me to work with them on my own.”

Full-blood herds, like ESF, are highly prized as sources of imported and developed 100% Wagyu genetics. Sherwood explains that purebred herds are defined as a minimum 93% Wagyu and that the industry today includes many other ‘percentage-Wagyu’ herds.

In fact, the American Wagyu Association (AWA) is the fastest growing beef breed association in recent years.

Sherwood chose to stay 100% Wagyu, breeding only full-bloods according to the Japanese tradition. Over the years, he’s sold mainly breeding stock, but also surplus males for others to finish for specialty top-shelf beef markets.

During his veterinary years before retirement in 2003, Sherwood and his wife Mary, worked as partners, but as he got into the Wagyu after retirement, she was unable for health reasons to help. He has developed a real affinity for this breed because of the way they acclimate readily to people making his work easier in these later years.

ESF-2.jpg

“To look at them, you would never know what a superior beef animal they are. They aren’t muscular or thick like other beef breeds, and in some ways their body structure is more dairy,” says Dr. Donald Sherwood of Empire State Farm as he notes the outstanding meat the Wagyu produce and the pleasure this Japanese breed has been for him to work with virtually on his own for 17 years.

“These cattle are a pleasure to work with. It’s neat to have an animal you can work with by yourself as long as you let them know you’re around,” Sherwood observes.

He says many people are getting started into this breed and building on it, in part because they are easy to work with as long as they are not left to run wild.

“It’s not hard to work with the Wagyu. They adjust to people very well and become docile and friendly with interaction, where other beef breeds don’t get that disposition where they enjoy being around people,” Sherwood explains.

“The Japanese bred these cattle originally, and I’ve based a lot of my program on the proven sires from Japan. Most of my sires have come from Japan, where these cattle are a national treasure – they think that much of them,” he adds.

We hear the stories, that the Japanese feed the Wagyu beer and massage them and take individual care of them as smallholder operations. As Sherwood notes, Japan doesn’t have the land resources for cattle like in the U.S., so they are protective of their Wagyu in smaller and more intimate settings.

He is quick to point out, “It’s really the meat that makes the Wagyu stand out. These aren’t show cattle. Their claim to fame is how they look on the rail,” Sherwood explains. “With meat so outstanding, the Wagyu are more noted for the quality of their meat than being judged for their appearance in a show ring. They aren’t that muscular, but have that good-tasting beef with a healthy and flavorful fat.”

In the U.S., Wagyu (or as it is often described on menus as “Kobe”) often comes from percentage-herds or crossbreeding. But for those who’ve had the real-deal, it’s an eating experience not soon forgotten.

Information from the American Wagyu Association (AWA) suggests the type of marbling is different. Imagine thin ribbons of intramuscular fat evenly dispersed. And AWA notes this is a healthy fat that is high in Omega 3’s.

“To look at them, you would never know what a superior beef animal they are,” Sherwood says with a chuckle. “They aren’t muscular or thick like other beef breeds, and in some ways their body structure is more dairy.”

In fact, in Japan and Australia, Holsteins are often crossed with the Wagyu to reduce birthweight for first-calf dairy animals and to produce an F1 cross that offers a “commercial” version of this very distinctive high-quality beef.

In Australia, for example, the Wagyu herd is quite large, and they’ve developed the F1 Holstein x Wagyu as a secondary income stream for a dairy industry under siege of many years of poor milk prices.

Breeding Holstein females to Wagyu bulls is already commonplace in both Japan and Australia with Wagyu x Holstein deemed the ultimate cross in Japan because Holsteins are the next highest marbling cattle breed behind Wagyus, producing meat superior in quality to the meat of Wagyu crossed with any other breed, according to information available from the AWA.

Their highly-marbled beef typically grades Prime or above, even in crossbreeding programs. In fact, Japan has eight quality standards above the U.S. Prime quality grade that the Wagyu meet, according to the AWA.

In the U.S., less than 2% of all U.S. beef currently grades Prime. This, along with a return of consumers to fat and flavor after revelations about the pitfalls of lowfat diets, helps position the Wagyu as a breed that can make a significant impact on beef quality – particularly in dairy-cross programs where the value of bull calves is increased and sexed semen heifers are produced with matings to dairy bulls.

The AWA reports that numerous U.S. buyers are willing to pay $0.20-0.30 per lb premiums above local market beef prices for Wagyu F1 calves (Wagyu x Holstein).

However, this value is only realized when working with a marketing system that recognizes the superior eating quality of the Wagyu.

Still, Sherwood notes that nothing else — no cross — equals the flavor of full-blooded 100% Wagyu beef. And that is why full-bloods command such high prices.

As an example, one ESF animal selling on Sept. 22 had a sister sell for $16,000 at a sale in Limerick, Pennsylvania in April of this year. It was the Synergy Wagyu Genetic Opportunity Sale.

Synergy had several Empire State Farm (ESF) females in their herd and sold their ESF-pedigree offspring for amounts up to $46,000, according to information available in the sale catalog

In his letter to buyers, Dr. Sherwood says he does not claim to be an expert on Japanese Wagyu, but that he studied the breed extensively and incorporated the Japanese philosophy into his management to develop lines with the outstanding meat Wagyu are known for and crossing them with Wagyu lines that bring size, milking ability, small calves for calving ease as well as disposition and temperament.

“This sale is it for me,” says Sherwood, 86, about his beloved cattle project. “We had an auction five years ago, and then started up again, but age and health have me slowing-down so this is a complete dispersal this time. I’ve had 40 years as a veterinarian and a great wonderful time working with cattle and enjoying it. Now I’ll spend more time with my family with thanks to our sons Don and Steve, and especially my wife Mary. We have worked together all of our life.”

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Changing of the guard: New PMMB chairman sees increased fluid milk demand as job no. 1

RobBarley6539 (2).jpgBy Sherry Bunting, Reprinted from Farmshine, August 3, 2018

CONESTOGA, Pa. — The number one problem needing solved for dairy is bringing back fluid milk demand. Good things are happening in the dairy industry, which makes now the critical time to seek ideas, think outside the box, and be open to seeing — and seizing — opportunities.

That’s what came through during a recent interview with Rob Barley in his office at Star Rock Farms. The Lancaster County farmer and dairy producer is having a busy summer as the new chairman of the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board (PMMB).

He is also the first dairy farmer to be appointed by USDA to the at-large general public seat on the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board, which funds the Milk Processors Education Program (MilkPEP) for educating consumers and increasing fluid milk consumption.

“For way too long, producers have been struggling with profitability. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to help bring back a positive atmosphere, that gives farmers hope, to know we have a product people want, that makes their lives better, while providing a return for our hard work,” says Barley. “In the long term, there are issues to address and to quantify, but in the short term, we want to find ways to increase fluid milk consumption because that solves a lot of our problems.”

In the farm business partnership with his brother and cousin, as well as in leadership roles through the years, what Barley says he enjoys most is “the people in this industry. They are good and hard working. I’ve been part of the dairy industry all my life, and I want Pennsylvania to remain a strong dairy state.”

July brought a changing of the guard and a fresh spirit of optimism and forward-looking energy to the PMMB with the June Senate confirmation of both Barley and Dr. Carol Hardbarger, who join Jim Van Blarcom on the three-member board.

While Barley wasn’t actively seeking the appointment, he was often been called upon to give a dairy producer’s point of view at House and Senate hearings over the past 10 years during his previous involvement with the Dairy Policy Action Coalition (DPAC).

“There was a clamor for change, and people were encouraging me to consider a PMMB appointment,” he says. People were vocal about it. Fellow dairy farmers asked Rob to get involved, and the support of Senators Scott Martin and Ryan Aument of Lancaster County, as well as the Senate leadership, was instrumental.

Once it became clear there were two openings for board terms that had expired without re-appointment, Barley had discussions with Pa. Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding and was honored when the Governor appointed him in May.

Now, just a month after being confirmed by the Senate, Barley says he is getting a feel for the PMMB’s regulatory function. At the same time, he wants the board to exercise a leadership role in the collective efforts underway to strengthen Pennsylvania dairy.

That process of idea-gathering began with Secretary Redding’s letter to the previous board in April, followed by the previous chairman, Luke Brubaker, holding several open hearings for public comment.

Barley wants to keep that momentum going. In addition to spending a day or two each week in Harrisburg with staff, he has been reaching out in person and by phone to talk with people from all facets of the dairy industry. He wants to understand the landscape of what’s being done now, and take-in ideas from others about what can be done going forward.

“We have opportunities, and a board and staff that really want to work on this. We’ve had discussions about many things, including how to support and encourage our schools where milk is concerned. Jim is really engaged in this and Carol has some ideas on the consumer side,” says Barley of his fellow PMMB board members. “Carol is a retired educator, and she really has a passion to get information to the consumers, and that’s in her purview as the PMMB member representing consumer interests.”

During the July 2 hearing and sunshine meeting, the first for Barley as PMMB chair, the enthusiasm was apparent among board, staff, industry participants and onlookers as the reorganized board is challenging everyone to bring forward ideas.

“We want all ideas on the table, whether or not they’ve been looked at before,” says Barley. “At this point, we’re focusing on putting anything on the table that will increase demand or bring it back. We’ve challenged the staff to bring out ideas, and they are very engaged.”

The PMMB is also engaging the Pa. Department of Agriculture, Center for Dairy Excellence and the PA Preferred program.

“There’s a limit to what we can do from a regulatory side, because our job as a board is fairly narrow, but we can show vocal support and leadership, and if we see something we can do that can help, we can consider it, or make suggestions to the legislature,” Barley explains.

In fact, the Senate Ag Committee encouraged Barley and Hardbarger to do just that during their confirmation hearing. Senators said they wanted to keep dialog going and see ‘marketing’ put back into the meaning of the Milk Marketing Board.

Barley sees real opportunity in Pennsylvania. And while the multi-part Pennsylvania Dairy Study shows the Keystone state as a good bet for new processing, he realizes new plants are costly, and attracting a new processing plant will take time.

“We are competing with other states that may have more incentives or more sites, but we have the milk and the infrastructure and the quality and the people, and we can overcome some of those challenges by looking at new opportunities with existing plants,” he suggests.

Discussions are already happening with existing fluid milk plants in the industry around ideas for expansion associated with re-tooling and innovation.

“The normal market for fluid milk is not expanding, but maybe we can offer other ways for consumers to enjoy milk,” says Barley. Working with businesses already located in Pennsylvania, with a commitment here, could be a less expensive and faster course of action to get accomplished versus attracting a new plant or new business to the state.

That’s how Barley thinks. He thinks in terms of opportunities and how to capitalize on them, and in these new roles, he is using those skills to strengthen an industry he cares about and bring that to the farm level.

“I’m excited to finally see some good things happening in dairy,” he cites the recent University of Texas Health Science Center published July 11 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It shows the clear health benefits of enjoying full-fat dairy products and whole milk. Barley is also is encouraged by FDA’s recent move to look at what actually is milk.

“Consumption of most dairy products is good, but we are losing fluid demand. With some of the good things beginning to happen, we have this opportunity right now,” says Barley. “All we ever heard for decades is that eggs are bad for us, and now they’re recommending two eggs a day. I see this happening with science supporting dairy.”

Barley looks forward to his first MilkPEP board meeting in Boston in August. Of that separate and voluntary, unpaid promotion board seat, he says “I’m looking to bring the farmer perspective.”

Of the PMMB chairmanship, Barley acknowledges that, “There are hurdles in the current system, and we’re finding out what the board can do, where we fit as the state looks at dairy processing and economic development and in what ways we can encourage innovation to increase demand.”

In both appointments, Barley is focused on fluid milk demand. Pure and simple, he considers it job number one. His bottom line is that doing the right thing is something no one should be afraid of.

“That’s really what I want to see — and what farmers want to see, and what everyone wants to see — is that fluid milk demand to increase. If everyone working on it can start bringing it back, that will help the profit margins the whole way through the chain,” he says. “If we continue to have fluid milk demand being destroyed, nothing will save our industry.”

As the board and staff engage with farmers, cooperatives, processors, retailers, and even consumers, Barley stresses that, “We want to hear as many ideas and meet with as many folks as possible. There’s more agreement in this industry than most people think.”

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RobBarley photo caption

Rob Barley at Star Rock Farms, where he is in partnership with his brother Tom and cousin Abe in the diversified dairy, crop and livestock business. As the new chairman of the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board (PMMB), and first dairy farmer recently appointed to an at-large seat on the National Fluid Milk Processors Promotion Board, he hopes to help make fluid milk demand job number one. “That’s really what I want to see — and what farmers want to see, and what everyone wants to see — is that fluid milk demand to increase. If everyone working on it can start bringing it back, that will help the profit margins the whole way through the chain. If we continue to have fluid milk demand being destroyed, nothing will save our industry.” Photo by Sherry Bunting

A story interview with the new PMMB consumer representative, Dr. Carol Hardbarger, appears in Friday’s Sept. 7 Farmshine, beginning on page 3. This one will also be posted at this blog in the future.

In light of trade news, Canadian dairy quota, Cl. 7, tariff situation explained

Should Canada make major concessions on the high tariffs on dairy imports that are part of its supply-managed dairy system? In a word: No. There is room to negotiate thresholds, but what right does the U.S. have to demand that they end a system that works for them? What right, especially as Canada has taken steps to manage how it determines quota as fat demand and protein demand are not moving together? Here’s what you won’t read elsewhere about the new Class 7 pricing and why it was implemented in Canada so that Canadian processors can use competitively-priced Canadian-produced protein solids that ride along with the now high-demand butterfat (on which their quota is based). Canada and the U.S. import and export dairy products and milk back and forth across the border with low tariffs up to a certain threshold. Perhaps, in the case of Canada, the U.S. should just reciprocate with high over-quota tariffs and tighter quota thresholds on Canadian fluid milk exports we know head south of the border. Canadian farmers have taken a step to show a willingness to be responsible in this discussion. They have moved to control their exports by reducing quota up to 3% this year after seeing 25% growth related almost exclusively to butterfat demand over the past 4 years. 

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, August 24, 2018

Canada8854w.jpgALBANY, N.Y. — “Cycles don’t exist in a supply-managed system,” said Canadian dairy farmer Nick Thurler. He sits on the Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO) board and operates a dairy farm of 500 registered Holsteins with his brother and their sons.

Thurler9413wThurler was a presenter at the Dairy Summit organized by Agri-Mark in Albany, New York on August 13. The summit gathered 350 people, half of them dairy farmers, and many of the producers in attendance being on various U.S. milk cooperative boards.

Thurler explained how the Canadian milk quota system works and some of the changes they have seen over the past three years in response to increased demand for butterfat.

He noted that the entire system is completely run by dairy farmers via provincial boards and that there are 450 processors in Canada with 80 to 85% of the country’s milk marketed to Parmalat, Saputo, Agropur, and Arla.

Thurler explained how the Canadian quota is based on kilograms of butterfat production per day.  All milk is sold to the provincial boards and they look after all the pickup and delivery of milk to the plants.

Canada9386web.jpgA government entity audits the processor stocks, which weighs into the market needs.

Quota value was capped some years ago at $24,000 per cow and new quota is distributed by dividing half equally over all producers and then the second half is prorated up to 10% of an individual producer’s current quota.

Meetings are held with processors and government once a year to “discuss the issues.”

The Canadian milk prices are determined with a formula that is 50% based on the change in cost of production at the farm level and 50% on the consumer price index.

Thurler said the current price to farmers stands at around $25 in U.S. dollars.

“It’s actually a little lower now because we have a little too much milk in the system,” he said, explaining that quota this year is being cut by up to 3% to balance that.

As noted around the world, demand for butterfat has increased, and since this is how Canadian quota is determined, increases in quotas continued higher over the past three to four years.

In addition, as demand for butter and cream increased, farmers became acutely aware of how their imports were increasing.

Thurler noted that when he got on the DFO board in 2014, “It drove me nuts the amount of butter we were importing.”

Canada allows imports to a certain threshold and after that, imposes high tariffs to protect its farmers. But as demand for butter increased — and Canadian farmers were just beginning to fill quota expansion to address that — U.S. processors (some of them Canadian-owned) saw the concentrated proteins product from the technology of ultrafiltered milk did not “fit” any category in the harmonized tariff schedule. Thus, the U.S. butter processors and cooperatives could, and did, export ultrafiltered milk (wet concentrated protein solids) to Canadian cheese and yogurt processors — free of tariffs.

Over the last three to four years, as Canadian dairy quota increased, producers had some difficulty keeping up with that progressive expansion of 4% per year in butterfat production, and could recoup their own previously-unfilled quota within a time frame.

These dynamics led to a combined surge in milk production in Canada coming into this year, up nearly 25% compared with four years ago.

As they were supplying more of the increased butterfat needs, they needed a market for the residual skim that was costing producers a lot in drying costs. This is why and when the Class 7 pricing was implemented to allow Canadian producers to offer skim solids associated with the butterfat demand growth their expanded quota supplies.

Under Class 7 pricing, these wet protein solids — remaining after the cream is separated — can be sold to their own processors at globally competitive prices, thereby avoiding the drying costs, and consequently at the same time, reducing the incentive for Canadian processors to import these protein solids (ultrafiltered milk) from the U.S. and other sources.

Thurler said in an interview after his presentation that it was never the intention to implement this Class 7 pricing as a tool for creating Canadian exports to compete with the U.S., but rather to align Canada’s milk production growth opportunities between producers and processors in a way that uses both the rapidly increasing demand for fat, on which their quota system is based, and the slower demand increase for skim. That pricing still uses an 83% to 17% split between domestic quota pricing and global pricing so that it still reasonably fits their supply-managed system.

Thurler had also indicated that Class 7 was put in place after a review by WTO lawyers to make sure it was compliant. Canada is allowed to export “some” dairy under its current trade agreements.

After this report was published, public statistics on global dairy trade were revealed, showing that Canada accounts for less than half of one percent of total global dairy exports.

Additional data for first 6 months 2018 from EU reporting (Milk Market Observatory)  These exporter rankings: Canada ranked 7th in SMP exports at 35,344 tons, up 14% over first half 2017, but just 2.8% of top 10 total (1.3 mil ton); U.S. was 2nd at 386,766 ton, +25%. In Casein exports, Canada ranked 9th at a paltry 210 ton, up 64% but just 0.02% (2/10ths of one percent) of top 10 total (90,000 ton); US ranked 4th at 1822 ton, up 3%. In Whey powder exports, Canada ranked 4th at 34,133 tons, up 8%, but 4.8% of top 10 total (711,931 ton); U.S. ranked 2nd at 282,893 tons, up 16%.

In the first 6 months of 2018, Canada imported 19% less butterfat and butteroil than year ago, but was still 10th in top 10 IMPORTER of butterfat at over 10,000 ton.

Interestingly, the U.S. was the 3rd highest butterfat and butteroil IMPORTER after China (1) and Russia (2). The U.S. imported 12% more butterfat and butteroil than year ago in the first 6 months of 2018, and more than twice as much as Canada, at over 22,000 tons. The U.S. also ranked 4th in condensed milk imports, up 11% at 18,117 tons during the first 6 months of 2018 — particularly in the so-called ‘spring flush’ months of April, May and June.

Stay tuned.

Comment period for milk, dairy identity ends 8/27. Part 2 of 7/26 hearing right here

iStock-544807136.jpgBy Sherry Bunting, from Farmshine, August 17, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. – There are 10 days remaining for public comment on FDA standards of identity for milk and nearly 80 other dairy products, along with the other aspects at stake as FDA launched its Nutrition Innovation Strategy to determine – and stamp – healthy choices for consumers while taking steps to “modernize” standards of identity to “achieve nutritional goals.”

The daylong FDA hearing on July 26 was one of several relating to these issues on the FDA docket, and as previously reported in Farmshine, dairy has taken center stage for several reasons.

First, Scott Gottlieb, head of the FDA, responded to calls for FDA to take a closer look at the dairy industry standards of identity, especially for milk. He opened the hearing saying that the agency must first determine “how consumers understand and use the term ‘milk’ to know if the inherent differences between these products is well understood by consumers so we can understand how consumers are being misled.”

The public comments being received by FDA through August 27, are the first step in its multi-faceted approach.

Individual comments on any of these converging standards of identity issues and the Nutrition Innovation Strategy can be sent to FDA prior to the Aug. 27, 2018 deadline at the docket portal here.

Or, send to: Dockets Management Staff (HFA–305), Food and Drug Administration, 5630 Fishers Lane, Rm. 1061, Rockville, MD 20857. 

The second aspect of this brief comment period is to discuss the standards of identity more broadly.

“We want to hear about changes in science to review and update,” said Gottlieb. “We are hearing the standards of identity can cause the food industry to avoid reformulations that would reduce fat and calories. We want to gather this input and encourage out-of-the-box thinking with the bottom line helping consumers to identify healthier options.”

We covered some of the testimony at FDA’s July 26 listening session in Part One in Farmshine, Aug. 10, 2018.

Here, in Part Two, published in Farmshine August 17, 2018, are more of the elements from that hearing that are so important to know and understand…

Of particular interest on dairy product standards of identity were the hearing comments by Cary Frye, senior vice president of regulatory affairs for the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA). She commended Commissioner Gottlieb for undertaking the Nutrition Innovation Strategy “to improve nutrition and health.”

While absolutely silent on enforcement of milk’s standard of identity, despite representing the nation’s milk and dairy food processors, Frye said, “the key area we are working on is to modernize the standards of identity for dairy products, which make up more than one-third of the 280 standards of identity currently on the FDA books.”

She said these standards “are outdated and stand in the way of innovations and novel processes. Current systems are not working and definitely need to be reformed.”

Frye noted that the cheese standards have been unchanged while ultrafiltered milk processes have been around for 20 years. “Clearly a new approach is needed for processes like this to be used to create new and healthful products.”

She said “processing milk by filtration to concentrate proteins and remove lactose is embraced around the world, but these new processes are not permitted in our dairy products with the current standards.”

Frye did, however, thank the FDA for what she described as FDA’s “recent guidance allowing ultrafiltered milk as an ingredient for cheeses.”

“But the agency needs to go further and make dairy a top priority for modernized standards of identity,” said Frye on behalf of IDFA. “We must incentify innovation. We can’t make these investments if we must petition for standards that take decades to complete.”

Along with standards, FDA wants to modernize label claims as a key element of the nutrition innovation strategy, to give consumers “quick signals” with important information on the nutritional benefits of food choices.

A key question FDA is looking at is: What claims best stimulate innovation to create products that are better choices?

Speakers at the hearing identified food trends, saying consumers are committed to a more balanced approach between nutrition and function, but also the idea of food, that it is part of how they experience life, with taste becoming more important to consumers than nutritional profile as they move away from “lowfat” foods.

(Unfortunately, this FDA strategy has not yet acknowledged there are health-related and nutritional reasons for consumers to move away from “lowfat” dogma of the past 30 to 40 years. My comment to the FDA docket will include sending by mail, a copy of The Big Fat Surprise, by Nina Teicholz, who will join me in sending copies of this book to FDA?)

As in many of these discussions, the generational shifts in food trends and choices are the most noticeable. Hearing presenters noted that millennials are pursuing “clean eating and natural foods” as more important than a nutrition-based label.

With that in mind, upholding and enforcing the current standards of identity for milk and dairy products becomes important since it is simple compared with concocted imitation formulations with long lists of ingredients unable to provide all of the nutrition milk has – naturally.

Hearing presenters also acknowledged that the declines in consumption of meat and dairy over the past 40 years have just begun to “shift back the other way.” People are returning to the fresh perimeter of the grocery store.

(Again, no mystery here, FDA needs to read the book: The Big Fat Surprise)

With millennial food choices driven by a so-called “return to purity,” my thoughts as I listened to the July 26 FDA Nutrition Innovation Strategy hearing is this: Will FDA move incrementally toward giving consumers what they want, while slipping into that desired food the science and innovation the FDA and food industry believe consumers need… in order to “get” the FDA ‘healthy choice’ stamp – however that is ultimately defined in this multi-year strategy and however it is ultimately designed for packaging?

These are big things to watch and participate in.

This is not to say that some new standards aren’t needed. Rob Post for Chobani, testified that they produce a nutrient dense, healthy, strained Greek yogurt, but because no standard of identity exists for this type of yogurt, they are challenged to have standardized nutrition profiles “that account for the 52% protein content in Greek yogurt” when used in institutional feeding programs like the National School Lunch Program.

“Today’s consumers have evolving demands and a new set of food values,” said Post. “Health is important, but so are other values and drivers.”

Others noted that the current standards of identity “do not allow lower salt content for cheese.”

This could be an issue when it comes to nutritional cheese getting a ‘healthy choice’ FDA stamp in the future, if such stamps are based on what are now questionable low-salt directives for healthy eating.

“Standards are important because they assure the consistency of the product, its authenticity and nutrition,” said Post.

Laura MacCleery, Policy Director, Center for Science in the Public Interest testified that, “Americans overconsume saturated fat.” They are among the contingent of wanting to work on labeling to steer consumers away from saturated fat.

Meanwhile, the American Heart Association testified to FDA that they want the standards of identity “modernized to improve the nutritional value of food by reducing both sodium and saturated fat.”

On the flipside, members of the dairy processing industry said they are looking for standards to be modernized to abolish the milk fat minimums and allow lower sodium on natural cheeses that currently have rigid standards of identity. Dairy processors testified that this is necessary to conform to the nutritional focal points of this discussion – salt and fat – that are still based on current dietary guidelines.

Will FDA grant these wishes and will we see lowfat and low salt cheeses introduced as “the real thing” because the standard has changed based on a dietary guideline many in the scientific community are already saying is a flawed guideline?

You can see the intertwined dilemma this FDA Nutrition Innovation Strategy could spawn.

Taste is king, according to the food processors speaking about low salt claims. They said they go ahead and formulate low salt varieties, they just are not always advertising it on the packaging space.

Will modernization of standards of identity low-salt and low-fat our food – our cheese for example — without our knowing it or being able to choose? Do we care if that happens as long as it tastes good? And how is that happening? With milk protein concentrates, given FDA’s already loosened grip on allowable ingredients in cheese standards of identity?

A representative for Great Lakes Cheese spoke up to say that, “Consumer transparency around label claims and that presents a huge consumer perception issue. We are interested in experimenting to reduce sodium in cheeses, but without having to put a flag saying so on our product.”

Without a change in standards, a low salt or low fat cheese would have to be labeled that way. If the fat and salt standards are abolished, no ‘flag’ is needed and consumers won’t know the fat or salt is lowered – it just may taste different.

One question asked was “If our goal is to impact consumer behavior, how do we empower consumers to look for better choices by looking to the nutrition facts instead of making changes to do it for them (with modernized standards and healthy-choice stamps)?”

Part of this process is FDA’s work to “update” the definition of “healthy” as a “voluntary” claim. What kind of symbol should be used, should it be by food group.

“What’s healthy and not healthy shifts over time, and it’s not the same for everyone. If you’re putting a stamp on something today, you may have to take it off at some time down the road,” said one hearing participant.

Dieticians were on the side of “one size doesn’t fit all” when it comes to using FDA-sanctioned ‘healthy’ stamps or symbols on food labels. They preferred to see a focus on foods and food patterns more than specific nutrients.

In fact, one anonymous dietician has already commented on the public document online to say they have spent 30 years with government food programs and this is his or her observation over those 30 years: “We have done a great disservice to the public in trying to get people to eat 6 to 12 servings of carbohydrates per day while subsisting on a lowfat diet.”

A participant from the Edge dairy farmer cooperative of 800 members in the Midwest (formerly Dairy Business Association Cooperative based in Wisconsin) said that, “Accurate labeling is the first step in FDA’s enforcement of existing standards for milk, cheese, yogurt. High nutrition and taste have come to be expected,” he said.

“Inaccurate labeling is not fair to farmers and their investment or to customers who may have been misled. We’re encouraged by FDA’s announcement and we encourage innovation in the dairy case to keep up with changing wants and needs with options for healthy products, but most people under-consume dairy products. We must have the flexibility to make what competes and to label innovative foods made with milk.”

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‘FDA may have forgotten the standard for milk, but we haven’t’ – Part One

Dairy epicenter of broader FDA strategy

 Public comments due August 27

By Sherry Bunting, from Farmshine August 10, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. — While the dairy industry is focused on multiple layers to the milk and dairy standards of identity — the FDA review of these standards, and their enforcement, is couched within the broader Comprehensive Multi-Year Nutrition Innovation Strategy launched recently by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Labeling and education are aspects of the strategy, along with a new FDA definition of “healthy choice” to be identified “visually” on foods that meet criteria FDA is still defining.

But the key to the strategy, according to FDA, is to “modernize” standards of identity in order to achieve specific nutrition goals the agency believes will reduce chronic diseases – namely diabetes, obesity and heart disease.

Since 80 of the 280 foods with current standards of identity are dairy foods, and many of the remaining 200 are meat products, the FDA’s noted allegiance to the low-fat dogma of the current Dietary Guidelines does not bode well for how this may all turn out.

That’s why grassroots consumers and producers NEED to get involved.

Of particular concern in a July 26 FDA hearing are regulator use of terms such as “barrier to innovation” or “reformulations of foods using science” in discussing how modernized standards of identity can help the government attain an objective of getting consumers to eat in accordance with the ways it believes will lower chronic disease.

This, despite the fact that noted scientists in the health and nutrition fields and investigative science journalists, like Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise, continue to point out how flawed the science has been for current dietary guidelines,  and how these flawed guidelines have actually led to epidemic rates of obesity and diabetes while doing nothing to abate heart disease and morbidity.

Teicholz observed in submitted comments that, “There is no evidence that saturated fats cause obesity. Consumption of saturated fats have declined 17% since 1970, animal fats down by 29% in same period, while obesity rates are up, so explain how saturated fats can be the cause?”

Hearings on parts of the Nutrition Innovation Strategy have already taken place prior to FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s now-famous statement that “Almonds don’t lactate.” This statement propelled milk and dairy into the epicenter of the standard of identity modernization process FDA already had in motion.

A daylong FDA hearing on July 26 kicked off the standard of identity portion of the Nutrition Innovation Strategy, and two weeks prior, the administration held a listening session specifically on the labeling and regulation of new cell-cultured protein technologies — funded by billionaire investors and conventional agriculture companies — seeking to gain standardized status as ‘animal-free’ versions of various meats and dairy proteins for inclusion in products — interchangeably without notice.

The July 26 session attracted a larger than expected attendance due to the national discussion on imitation milk products, and FDA moderator Kari Barrett indicated there was a “very large webcast audience participating.”

Commissioner Gottlieb kicked it off telling how FDA has been monitoring food innovation trends and sees these trends as providing an opportunity to empower individuals to use nutrition to reduce chronic disease.

He acknowledged a “deep personal interest” in the Nutrition Innovation Strategy as he believes nutrition innovation can help solve health issues, and he believes FDA can develop a policy framework to achieve it in their regulatory role.

(However as the daylong hearing progressed, it became obvious that the notable presenters and regulators on various panels are relying heavily on the current flawed Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which themselves are in need of “modernization” due to the revelations about the poor science behind them, particularly on saturated fat).

“We want to empower consumers with innovation and facilitate industry innovation for healthier foods … to remove barriers and leverage nutrition toward these goals,” said Gottlieb, calling it one of his “top priorities.”

He reminded participants that FDA regulates 80% of the food supply with a long history of informing that regulatory process via the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

“We want to modernize our regulatory approaches to help consumers seek healthier options,” said Gottlieb. “The historic approach (of FDA) is to set barriers. But by modernizing our framework and approach and looking at consumer trends, the food industry can provide these healthier options with foods consumers are seeking.”

The new area of focus for the agency, according to Gottlieb, will be to see the food industry “compete on the nutritional attributes of their products” within a policy framework that allows innovative reformulation.

Gottlieb also mentioned “calls for FDA to take a closer look at dairy identity,” he said. “But first we must better understand how consumers understand and use the term milk and how they are being misled.”

Gottlieb acknowledged the “proliferation of beverages calling themselves milk” and said the FDA is being questioned about its enforcement of milk’s standard of identity.

“The challenge is that we can’t unilaterally change if we have been historically enforcing it a certain way,” he said.  “That’s what we are starting, a conversation. We are meeting with interested stakeholders and will post a definition later this summer or early fall with specific questions for feedback and then revisit our enforcement.”

The next steps after comments, feedback and proposed definitions for milk will be to provide the industry with guidance on labeling, and then compliance.

“In the meantime, we will take steps on labels where there is a high likelihood of consumers being misled in cases where public health is affected,” Gottlieb said.

In total, the FDA has 280 standards of identity on the books “created when our grandparents were younger than me,” he said. “We want to hear about the changes in science to review so that we can update these standards.”

He gave the example of standards of identity being modernized with industry and consumer input “to reduce fat and calories.”

He said that FDA wants “to gather input and encourage out-of-the-box thinking” so that the standards are not so rigid as to “cause the industry to avoid reformulations that would reduce fat and calories.

“We need diverse opinions,” said Gottlieb, “but the bottom line (of the Nutrition Innovation Strategy) is for consumers to identify healthier options.”

He said that, “Disparities in diet contribute to disparities in health… modernizing standards and label claims are a key element of our strategy to give consumers quick signals with important information on nutritional benefits and provide incentives for industry to innovate for foods with more healthful attributes.”

Expert panelists, like David Portalatin, vice president and food industry advisor, The NPD Group, testified about consumer trends: “Our data suggest that plant-based protein alternatives are increasing very rapidly, and a large percentage of these consumers are not vegan.”

“Protein is the number one thing consumers seem to want to add to their diets, and we’ve seen a proliferation of ways to add it, and consumers say ‘yes’ I’ll try that,’” said Portalatin about the renewed interest in high protein diets. “When we invest in new stuff, we buy it, we are not a meat-avoidance society.”

He noted that according to survey data, 84% of people reporting they are consuming plant-based alternatives while they are not vegan or vegetarian. “There are a lot of us trying these alternatives,” said Portalatin.

He also mentioned that the interest consumers have in purchasing “low-fat” foods is declining, that people want real food – as it is – and want to control their intake of fat by portion size.

FDA hearing graph

David Portalatin said that in addition to more protein and fewer concerns among consumers about fat, consumers aso want more calcium, iron, Vit. A and antioxidants. Milk contains all and is a big source all but iron, while beef is a big source of the iron. A recent study showed that milk and other dairy foods are “densely packed” with antioxidants delivered in a more soluble way via the protein and fat found naturally in milk —  the very fat that FDA and the food police want people to eat less of and the very protein that some experts at the hearing said consumers want more of, but are not deficient in. In other words, consumers are going one way with their diets (away from flawed guidelines that have led to chronic illness) while the government may use this nutrition strategy to shepherd consumers back into the flawed guidelines obedience flock they are just now breaking free of. Screenshot by Sherry Bunting during FDA hearing webcast 

Interestingly, the four areas consumers are trying to improve their diets are found in the combination of real milk and beef in the diet.

The American Heart Association had a representative during the open comment time telling FDA they “want the standards of identity to be modernized to improve the nutritional value of food by reducing sodium and saturated fat.” (More on this in a future part of this series).

While he noted that generational cohorts are the biggest drivers of change, the renewed interest in high protein diets is, in his opinion, not necessary since “American diets are certainly not deficient in protein,” in Portalatin’s opinion.

He and other panelists tended to lump this high protein diet preference with a return to higher fat in the diet. Not one panelist recognized the revelations about low-fat dogma of 40 years contributing to the very chronic diseases the FDA strategy seeks to prevent. Every indication from this hearing is that FDA will fall in line with the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee in continuing to tweak all kinds of rules and regulations to get Americans to eat less fat — unconsciously — through modernized standards and reformulated foods.

The Good Food Institute — an organization representing plant-based and cell-culture imitation meat and dairy products — had legal representatives testifying on July 26 that, “FDA’s practice for the last decade or more in its guidance for ‘milk’ is that we could use the term ‘milk’ with appropriate modifiers, like almondmilk. The same has been true of butter, such as cashewbutter.”

The Good Food Institute insisted that when their foods can use a standardized term with a modifier, it allows their new – and they say healthier (but are they?) – products come to market more easily. “If that changes, it will make it harder for newer and healthier foods to come to market,” they said.

A representative for Dairy Farmers of America spoke during the open comment time saying that, “The current standard for milk should be enforced as it is. The plethora of products are borrowing the dairy industry’s nutrition profile, and those products may not be as nutritional or wholesome with FDA not enforcing the standard.”

From the Academy of Nutritionists and Dieticians, Jeannie Blankenship, said their professional members will have to “translate” whatever FDA decides on these things. “Consumers must be able to readily understand,” she said. “People with food allergies and intolerances use these standardized terms in a different manner than the general population.”

North Carolina Ag Commissioner Joe Reardon cited the standard of identity defines milk as a lacteal secretion of the mammary gland. “Plant-based beverages do not meet that definition,” he said. “If milk is on the label, then milk should be in the product. Without enforcement of this simple standard, then all standards of identity are compromised.”

He and others made it clear they are not advocating for these plant-based beverages to be removed from the market.

“We recognize they are a vital option for many consumers; however, they should be labeled correctly, without the term ‘milk,’” said Reardon. “North Carolina and other states stand ready and willing to assist FDA to enforce this standard and for the industry to come into compliance. We have heard here all day about the importance of a label, but without truth in labeling, none of the other matters.”

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Kim Bremmer testified to FDA on behalf of the American Dairy Coalition about enforcement of the definition of milk. Photo provided by ADC

Speaking for the American Dairy Coalition, which recently started an Integrity Initiative, Kim Bremmer, a dairy producer from Wisconsin said “You play a vital role in giving consumers the information to make choices. Nutrition matters. I see tens of thousands of consumers in my speaking and the vast amount think some of these beverages have cow’s milk in them, and most believe they are as nutritional as milk, and they aren’t. The play on words is misleading.”

Bremmer described cow’s milk as a powerhouse of nutrition with crucial nutrients for cellular function. “No other drink packs this nutrition. There’s no comparison,” she said, explaining what she sees and hears when fourth-graders visit her farm and she watches the children connect the dots to realize the almondmilk they may be drinking at home, isn’t milk at all.

“One in five people are food insecure and one out of 10 adolescent girl are deficient in calcium. We have a problem. We must protect the integrity and identity of milk because nutrition matters,” said Bremmer.

Rob Post from Chobani was there to talk about getting a standard of identity for Greek yogurt so that schools and other institutional feeding situations could accurately quantify the protein levels. As it is now, they are standardized at the regular yogurt levels of protein even though strained Greek yogurts are 52% protein — twice that of regular yogurt.

While he said standards of identity have not kept pace with new food innovations, and he wants to see a better process, he was quick to defend the current definition of milk and dairy — and its enforcement — saying that, “It’s important to have options, but words matter to consumers and dairy means something specific. It means nutrient dense, minimal processing. It is important that this standard is preserved,” said Post.

From National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), Tom Balmer noted that the issue comes down to “safeguarding the standards to help maintain honesty in the markets.”

“Milk, yogurt, cheese, butter. Standardized dairy terms are being coopted by others as purely a marketing gimmick, while these products lack the nutrients and attributes of dairy,” said Balmer.

“Consumers don’t realize they are being shortchanged. It’s hard to talk about ‘modernizing’ standards when current standards are not enforced. FDA may have forgotten the standard for milk, but we haven’t. Enforce the current standards and stop the confusing and deceitful marketing practices.”

International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), representing milk and dairy processors, was mum on milk, but touted an array of expanded and modernized standards they want to see for many dairy standards. More on that in part two.

The American Dairy Coalition is urging the FDA to stop allowing the wrongful use of the word “milk” on non-milk, plant-based alternative products labels. To sign the ADC Milk Integrity Initiative petition, it is available online at http://www.americandairycoalitioninc.com/the-integrity-initiative.html

Public comments can be sent to FDA prior to the Aug. 27, 2018 deadline at the docket portal at https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=FDA-2018-N-2381.

Or, send to: Dockets Management Staff (HFA–305), Food and Drug Administration, 5630 Fishers Lane, Rm. 1061, Rockville, MD 20852

All submissions received must include the Docket No. FDA– 2018–N–2381 for ‘‘FDA’s Comprehensive, Multi-Year Nutrition Innovation Strategy.’’

Look for part 2 this week.

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