OPINION: Abuse of dairy is long-running orchestration of deceit

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, March 3, 2023

In what appears to be scripted unison, the disappointing draft guidance on imitation milk labeling, published by the FDA on Feb. 22, is timed perfectly for Danone’s new advertising campaign to position its Silk Nextmilk as “the better milk.”

This includes putting imitation ‘Nextmilk’ mustaches on the adult daughters and sons of several “Got Milk” celebrities that donned real milk mustaches decades ago.

Never has the flagrant abuse of misleading marketing been more corrupt.

Danone officials have been quoted in news releases saying their NextMilk campaign is aimed at “inspiring a new generation of plant-based milk drinkers.”

In fact, Danone is deliberately corrupting the iconic milk mustache of the former MilkPEP ‘Got Milk’ campaign, which was originally launched by the California Milk Processor Board that started Got Milk 30 years ago.

This move by Danone’s Silk actually mocks producers of Real Milk. 

Several weeks ago, in Farmshine, I authored an article detailing Danone’s timeline on plant-based imitations for the milk, yogurt and cheese categories and the company’s stance on seeing this fake-milk area as the growth market they are investing in.

The recent FDA draft guidance on labeling of plant-based and other imitations is pathetic. FDA has caved to big global corporations seeking to exploit the nutritional benefits that are unique to real milk for their own fake-product financial gains. 

FDA even acknowledged in its draft guidance that consumers are confused about the nutritional differences and that a smaller percentage of consumers may even be confused about whether or not these products contain milk. Somehow, the FDA concluded that consumers are not being misled!

The FDA draft guidance “recommends” a “voluntary” statement about nutritional deficiencies, but this is not mandatory.

Even the voluntary statement criteria are described as being measured against USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service “substitution levels” for key nutrients, not what milk actually contains.

Furthermore, no importance is given in the FDA draft guidance to the differences between calcium additives and natural bioavailable calcium. No importance is given to milk as a COMPLETE protein with all 9 essential amino acids we must get from our foods and beverages because our bodies don’t make them.

Animal-derived protein, like in dairy and meat, contain all of these amino acids. Plant-derived proteins only contain some of these amino acids. Consumers need to know this.

There is much to say about the FDA’s track record of ignoring its own standards of identity for milk and other dairy products. The current administration shows little respect for milk’s integrity in the new draft guidance and other bureaucratic moves.

What will the dairy checkoff programs do about the manner in which Danone is stealing and perverting past real milk campaigns to dupe consumers into thinking NextMilk is real and better? What will be done about the packaging made to resemble whole milk?

We asked that question in an email to DMI’s press office and are still waiting for a response.

(UPDATE: The following response was provided to Farmshine by the DMI press office two days after this article was published: “The trademark registration for the ‘milk mustache’ expired and was not renewed by the organization which managed the campaign. And while imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the national and local dairy checkoff teams along with MilkPEP, NMPF and IDFA remain focused on engaging consumers with the nutritional value that dairy from a cow provides. It’s important to note plant-based alternatives overall are down 2.6% year over year, according to IRI data.” )

To me, it appears the dairy checkoff organizations are unconcerned. We have researchers paid with checkoff dollars looking at ways to fractionate milk and develop new protein drinks that address other desires of consumers — practically giving in to their survey findings that consumers don’t think dairy protein has any advantage over plant protein. 

BUT IT DOES! Why are we not pushing that message? Does USDA forbid such comparisons by checkoff organizations? Or is that a convenient excuse?

Now is not the time to give up the fight. Now is not the time to say, oh well, protein is protein so let’s blend them and make new beverages or let’s focus on other ways to draw consumers. Now is not the time to be shy, but to be bold.

Now is the time to push the education of consumers and rally the troops to support real milk and dairy.

All of the checkoff emphasis on ‘sustainability’ is not going to sell milk.

All of the emphasis on Gen-Z and ‘meeting consumers where they are’ is not going to sell milk.

Gen-Z has been robbed of the opportunity to have good tasting whole milk in school where they grow up receiving two meals a day, five days a week, three-quarters of the year with the only milkfat option being fat-free and 1%. They have been sold a bill of goods by Big Food while farmers have paid billions out of their own pockets in checkoff funds over the past 12 years to ‘play nice’ with the enemy.

To be honest, soy beverage has always been an alternative for those who can’t consume milk, and it remains the most nutritious of the fakes. But the proliferation of fake imitations is now just completely out of control, and most of these beverages aren’t much more than water, flavor and additives.

Danone is using “artificial intelligence” to redesign its imitation products. This global giant takes the lazy and perverse path of stealing not only milk’s name through misleading advertising, it is using a former real milk advertising campaign to promote an imitation product. 

Danone is packaging Silk’s fake imitations in red and white cartons to resemble whole milk in the supermarket dairy case, and even adding the words ‘whole’ or ‘whole fat’ under the brand name to make consumers THINK it’s the whole milk more people are turning to. 

In 2019, Danone even trademarked the phrase and artwork for its imitation beverage: “Silk – the original nutrition powerhouse”.

Silk? Original? Nutrition Powerhouse? Give me a break!

Danone is thumbing its nose at dairy farmers and using “sustainability” as the virtue signal to get away with these perversions.

In fact, I got a text message from a farmer this week who caught the tail end of a Today Show spot on television, where they interviewed the Danone Silk models, wearing Nextmilk mustaches like their celebrity mothers or fathers did years ago in the Got Milk campaign. 

This farmer thought actor John Travolta was going to do a Got Milk mustache campaign. But no, Danone hired his daughter to do a Silk NextMilk mustache campaign. Even the Today Show headline called it a ‘new milk campaign’ and highlighted the way the FDA draft guidance makes it all possible. 

No one was there to talk about the nutritional differences or to talk about real milk. 

Americans are being misled, dairy farmers are being thrown under the bus, and children are being deprived, while government agencies facilitate, and checkoff organizations twiddle their thumbs or say their hands are tied. 

We are thankful there are champions in the United States Congress who have introduced legislation to try to turn these circumstances around. We are thankful that Pennsylvania lawmakers are working on resolutions to file with federal government agencies on these proposed rules.

We are thankful for people like dairy producer and country singer Stephanie Nash of Tennessee who was interviewed on the Fox Business channel about the FDA guidance. She put it straight: ‘Milk comes from cows, not a lab.’ 

This is going to require all of us to get involved.

Here’s what you can do:

Call your Senators and Representatives and ask them to cosponsor the Dairy Pride Act and Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act.

Call your state lawmakers and ask them to pass resolutions in support of whole and 2% flavored and unflavored milk options in schools and then formally file those resolutions on the open USDA proposed rules docket.

Sign and promote others to sign the Whole Milk in Schools petition at https://www.change.org/p/bring-whole-milk-back-to-schools

Write a brief public comment and urge others to comment by April 10 on the USDA school nutrition proposed rule that would limit flavored milk in schools. Simply tell USDA our children need the nutrition whole milk provides, so school meals should include the options of whole and 2% unflavored and flavored milk. Comment on that docket at link https://www.regulations.gov/commenton/FNS-2022-0043-0001

Write a brief public comment and urge others to comment by April 24 to the FDA to stop allowing beverages that aren’t milk to be labeled as milk. Comment on that docket at https://www.regulations.gov/commenton/FDA-2023-D-0451-0002

And stay tuned on how to get involved as the next round of USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee deliberations recently got underway. The stage is already set for more demonization of milkfat and abuse of milk’s integrity there as well.

This abuse of milk cannot stand. It’s going to be up to us — the grassroots farmers and citizens — to stand in the gap for what is right.

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