Covering Ag since 1981. The faces, places, markets and issues of dairy and livestock production. Hard-hitting topics, market updates and inspirational stories from the notebook of a veteran ag journalist. Contributing reporter for Farmshine since 1987; Editor of former Livestock Reporter 1981-1998; Before that I milked cows. @Agmoos on Twitter, @AgmoosInsight on FB #MilkMarketMoos
By Sherry Bunting, republished from Farmshine, November 18, 2022
These cows are wondering what’s going on. Five days ago, they enjoyed balmy 70-degree temps. This morning, they could see their own breath freezing in mid-air.
They’ve been listening to their farmer’s radio this week and heard that President Biden pledged to give $11.4 billion ANNUALLY to other countries for a climate transition. They heard that climate pledges were being made at COP27 that could make what is happening to some of their friends in Europe happen here in the U.S. to them too.
This got their attention because they’ve also been hearing how the methane in their burps is being overblown by a whopping 3 to 4 times its actual warming potential over 20 years.
(They could have told you that if they could talk).
Yep, they know they are getting a raw deal here. Even the world’s foremost authorities on what units of measure to use for methane agree that the GWP100 is overblowing the cow problem, whereas the GWP* they hear Dr. Frank Mitloehner talk about when their farmer has a zoom webinar airing within earshot is more accurate and gives them a chance to be the SOLUTION they know they are instead of the PROBLEM they know they are not.
But cows can’t talk, so they can’t stick up for themselves. Are we sticking up for them?
Bessie and her friends have heard that their farmer must pay 15 cents for every 100 pounds of milk they make to an organization in Chicago that is content to use the inflated unit, content to keep driving their net-zero talking points even though net-zero GHG is impossible because, well, because cows continue to breathe and burp, so getting the unit of measure correct may literally save their lives some day.
Even their tiny cow-sized brains are smart enough to know that inflating a problem to make a buck is not a good idea.
What is a good idea for the cows and their farmers, and for the world, is for the 15-cent-takers to change their narrative and talk about true warming potential and climate neutrality instead of net-zero, ad-nauseum.
One can sense these cows wish they could speak up to say: “Stop overblowing our burps please! It’s impolite!”
They might even say something like this: “Our ‘hot air’ is nothing compared to the steam rising off the loads of bull coming out of Washington, D.C. and COP27 in Egypt!”
These cows have also heard on their farmer’s radio station that the mid-term elections are still undecided as to what party will be in leadership of the People’s House. And yes, they’ll admit that over the past eight days, they’ve placed a few bets on the outcomes between mouthfuls of TMR at the feedbunk where they discuss current events.
They’ve even wondered if they should start a new political party of their own: the COW-MP party, which stands for Commonsense Organization of Whole Milk Producers. After all, some people think skim milk is their product. That one really gets them mooing.
This Thanksgiving, we’re thankful for our dairy farm families and the people of this industry who work hard every day to feed the world. But this year, we’re giving a special ode of gratitude to the bovine beauties, themselves, that make it all possible. Where would we be without the cows?
While the climate policy wonks, activists, even industry organizations perpetuate or allow this verbal abuse of our cows to continue, we’re thanking God for providing the essential irreplaceable cow.
We’re pretty sure He knew what He was doing a whole lot better than those in the ivory towers making policy, devising hoops for cows to jump through in order to exist and funding startups to make fake protein from fermentation vats in labs and factories under the mantra of saving the planet from the inflated overblown warming potential of our burping cows.
Even those of us with tiny cow-sized brains are smart enough to realize it’s really all about making money and controlling food.
Have a Happy Thanksgiving, and let’s think more about how we should be standing up for our cows.
By Sherry Bunting, updated from original publication in Farmshine, Sept. 30, 2022
WASHINGTON — Get ready for unscientific nutrition bullying. Announced more than a year ago, the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health Wednesday, September 28 was cloaked in secrecy until the eve of the event, when the 44-page “Biden-Harris Administration National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health” was released Tuesday, September 27 around Noon.
By 5:00 p.m., the Conference agenda appeared in the inbox of registered participants, and during the overnight hours, the Biden Administration released a fact-sheet announcing $8 billion in “new commitments” from over 100 private businesses, local governments and philanthropies for what it calls a “transformational vision.”
Taking a page from the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Davos-style approach to food transformation, the White House solicited pledges to address the five “pillars” in its playbook.
Of note among them are a $500 million investment by Sysco (foodservice vendor), nearly $50 million by Danone, $250 million from a collaboration of the Rockefeller Foundation and the American Heart Association on a ‘food as medicine’ initiative, and an undisclosed amount for a collaboration between Environmental Working Group, the James Beard Foundation, the Plant Based Foods Association and the Independent Restaurant Coalition to prompt more plant-based alternative and vegan offerings in foodservice — to name a few.
Then, at 9:15 a.m., just 15 minutes before USDA Secretary Vilsack was set to open the Conference ahead of President Joe Biden’s remarks, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced its “proposed updated definition of a ‘Healthy’ claim on food packages to help improve diet and reduce chronic disease.”
Presto: FDA provided the ‘teeth,’ describing its proposal as aligning directly with the Dietary Guidelines. For the proposed rule, click here and to submit a comment by Dec. 28, 2022, click here
The flurry of activity appeared in scripted fashion within the 24-hours prior to the start of the White House Nutrition Conference convening stakeholders. The first such conference was over 50 years ago and had served as the launch pad for what are known today as the infamous Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs).
The Conference and follow up actions, said President Biden on Sept. 28, are being devoted to “nourishing the soul of America so that no child goes to bed hungry and no parent dies of a disease that can be prevented. We can do big things,” he said about the stated 2030 goals of ending hunger, increasing healthy eating and physical activity, and reducing diet-related illnesses and other nutrition-related health inequities.
The President continued: “We can use these advances to do more to be a stronger and healthier nation, to achieve ambitious goals. We must take advantage of these opportunities when we have these children in a whole of government, whole of society approach. We need to think in ways we never thought before.”
In his remarks ahead of the President, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack stated that government programs feed 1 in 4 children. He and Biden both talked about expanding the child credit permanently. They talked about $2 billion in funding for food banks and schools, including $100 million for ‘incentives’ to make school meals healthier. They both noted funding to make free school meals available for 9 million additional children. A laundry-list of throwing money at a problem without re-evaluating the flawed guidelines that run the school meals and other USDA food programs despite preponderance of evidence that saturated fats are not the enemy.
There was talk of going “a new direction” but this is all process-based. There was no talk of reviewing the flawed Dietary Guidelines that helped get us here and that the Biden-Harris strategy puts so much emphasis on.
Parsing through the 44-page National Strategy, the bottom line is to expect more of the same drill-down on eliminating animal fats, only worse and with stiffer process, labeling and speech boundaries through FDA and the FTC.
We can expect nutrition bullying to commence — if we step outside of the still-vague but Dietary Guidelines-centered White House playbook. In fact, in addition to the FDA ‘Healthy’ label update, a small-print detail in the 44-page Strategy promises power and funding to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to scrutinize and penalize food marketing claims for being out-of-bounds on the Biden-Harris DGA-scripted nutrition field of play.
Vilsack noted the National Strategy’s approach is a “whole of government approach that involves the entire federal family.”
In preparation for the Conference, many have lamented the lack of transparency leading up to it. For months, the Conference website gave instructions on how to hold a ‘watch party,’ or a ‘satellite event,’ and how to rally support for nutrition and health ahead of time. But all of the necessary details were missing — until the day of the conference.
Emailed invitations were sent to those who registered just three days before — requesting that they visit a web-portal and record an interview to provide input. There, people respond to White House questions and their faces are added to a streaming screen full of moving mouths — giving the appearance of broad input flowing in from Americans.
Made nervous by the lack of a published agenda or framework, over a dozen agricultural organizations had sent a letter to President Biden on September 8th asking for a “seat at the table.” Those organizations included American Farm Bureau and commodity groups for wheat, beef, sorghum, peanuts, canola, soybeans, barley, corn, sunflower, eggs and rice.
Dairy organizations were conspicuously absent from any of the pre-Conference letter-writing or other such public statements. But then, the dairy industry has its man Vilsack in play, and its DGA 3-a-day – so case-closed – can’t be bothered on the milkfat and whole milk issue.
On the agenda provided the day of the Conference, we found former DMI vice president of sustainability, Erin Fitzgerald — who now serves as CEO of the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance and who represented USFRA and referenced her boss at the dairy checkoff during a WEF panel in Davos earlier this year — leading a plenary session on “access to affordable foods.” Also, Chuck Conners of the National Association of Farmer Cooperatives led the plenary discussion on “empowering consumers to make healthy choices.”
(We learned after the Sept. Conference that National Milk Producers Federation and the National Dairy Council, funded by the mandatory dairy farmer checkoff, were invited to attend. They were represented, and they brought “student leaders” from GENYOUth. To read NMPF’s statement after the Conference, click here).
Key questions around “what are those healthy choices” to be compassed in tools and identified in FDA labeling went repeatedly unanswered as the discussions focused on approaches and processes, perhaps deeming the unsettled dietary science on fats to be settled science with no need for discussion.
Nutrition Coalition founder, advocate, author and investigative journalist Nina Teicholz has been writing about the Conference for weeks before it began, noting the lack of a pre-conference agenda and the refusal of the Administration to review the science on saturated fats ahead of this ‘landmark’ event.
She points out that the White House delegated Conference planning to the Dean of the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University Professor Dariush Mozaffarian — developer of the Food Compass, which is a new method for rating and ranking foods in categories to be consumed frequently, modestly, and occasionally.
To understand what the Food Compass looks like — sugary cereals rank far ahead of the milk that goes in the bowl with them. And, nearly 70 brand-named cereals from General Mills, Kellogg’s, and Post are ranked twice as high as eggs cooked in butter! Alternative fake milk beverages, such as almond juice, rank ahead of skim milk and far ahead of whole milk. Potato chips (yes, potato chips) are an example of a food that ranks ahead of a simple hard-boiled egg and light-years ahead of whole milk, most cheeses and real beef.
In fact, the only cattle-derived product to get top sector ranking is plain non-fat yogurt. (Surprise: Danone was one of the Food Compass development sponsors). Meanwhile, most cheeses, whole milk, and beef ranked near or at the very bottom of the lowest categories.
Teicholz laments the lack of consideration by the White House, USDA, HHS and FDA as they ignore many reviews including the most recent state-of-the-art review on saturated fats, whose authors include five former members of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.
“These are the people who wrote the guidelines saying: ‘We got it wrong,’” writes Teicholz.
Their paper was published in the prestigious Journal of the American College of Cardiologists, whose Editor in Chief named it as one of the top 5 papers of the year. Science like this appears to be off the menu of the White House nutrition playbook.
The entire playbook hinges upon the main tenets of the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans even though the DGAs are being questioned by the scientific community… Even though the DGAs have screened out sound science on dietary animal fats and proteins for at least the past three cycles (15 years)… Even though the rates of American obesity and diet-related illnesses were mostly stable pre-DGA but have risen steadily since the DGA cycles began… And even though these consequences have risen dramatically among children and teens during the past decade since school meals, school milk and a la carte competing foods and beverages were further restricted to the low-fat levels of the DGAs.
What does the White House blame for this poor performance? The playbook cites the Covid pandemic food choices of Americans — stuck at home — for the deteriorated statistics. Unbelievable! These statistics have been deteriorating for decades, especially since 2012.
Looking over the playbook, it closely follows the pattern of FDA’s Multi-year Nutrition Innovation Strategy proceedings that have been quietly underway after public hearings in 2018-19 until the ‘Healthy’ label proposal was announced Sept. 28, 2022.
Appearing in the White House playbook is the proclamation that food and beverage packaging will move toward simpler nutrition guidance under FDA, that an easily recognizable ‘healthy symbol’ will be reserved for front-of-package labeling on those foods the government deems Americans should eat, and a potential ranking system for symbols will be developed for packaging of foods and beverages the federal government deems unhealthy.
This is all coincidentally similar to the Tufts Food Compass, and the substance behind these simplified ‘healthy’ (or not) symbols is a doubling-down on the low-fat DGAs as a primary base metric. Here is a deep dive into the Tufts Food Compass that Mozaffarian, the White House Nutrition Conference Chairman, had a critical role in developing to now be the formation of future food policy. Read the comprehensive analysis here
The National Strategy calls for even more adherence to the flawed DGAs among every sector of the economy beyond government feeding programs, schools, hospitals, and military diets to include foodservice offerings, supermarket layouts, online shopping algorithms, even licensing for all daycare or childcare providers and nutrition certification for these licensed childcare providers – not just those receiving government subsidies for food.
This is so-called “stealth-health” at its best — or rather its worst.
The Biden Administration professes to be concerned about the 1 in 10 households experiencing food insecurity and the rise in diet-related diseases among the leading causes of death and disability in the U.S. The White House cites data showing 19 states have obesity prevalence at 35% or higher with 1 in 10 citizens having diabetes, 1 in 3 with cancer in their lifetime, and nearly 5 in 10 with high blood pressure.
Yet, there is no pause for a comprehensive review of the very dietary guidance, the DGAs, that helped get us here.
The National Strategy reveals how the Administration is assembling executive orders, legislative prompts, calls for action among food organizations, companies, agencies, academia and state and local governments to get everyone on the same page making Davos-style pledges and to conform to the federal playbook.
In the executive summary, the President writes: “Everyone has an important role to play in addressing these challenges: local, State, territory and Tribal governments; Congress; the private sector; civil society; agricultural workers; philanthropists; academics; and of course, the Federal Government.”
(Note Biden’s only reference to farmers or food producers is as “agricultural workers.”)
The playbook’s five pillars talk about improvement, integration, empowerment, support and enhancement. It coins phrases like ‘food as medicine’ and ‘prescriptions for food.’ Reading deeper, we see a launch pad for a new method of nutrition ranking and labeling with the primary factors listed as low-sodium, low-fat and reduced added sugars.
The playbook’s diagrams show us the concerning impact of food insecurity and diet-related diseases in poor overall health, poor mental health, increased financial stress, decreased academic achievement, reduced workforce productivity, increased health care costs and reduced military readiness – but then doubles-down on the solution being more of the same low-fat / high-carb dietary path that got us here.
The White House playbook states that, “The vast majority of Americans do not eat enough vegetables, fruits or whole grains and eat too much saturated fat, sodium and added sugars.” But at the same time, on the saturated fat question, the data show per capita consumption of red meat has declined since the start of the DGAs, and milk consumption has substantially declined.
Americans are being called upon to “unify around a transformational vision,” said Biden.
This vision includes more federal control of diets and nutrition education after failing miserably with the control it already possesses. There is no talk of revisiting the path we are on, just doubling-down on how to get more Americans onto that DGA path, to tell them what to eat, and to put the FDA stamp on ‘approved’ foods and beverages while having the FTC investigate health and nutrition claims that fall outside of the flawed DGAs.
Translation: Let the ‘nutrition bullying’ from the White House bully-pulpit begin. Some of us are ready to rumble.
Dairy farmers are being used without regard. Their future ability to operate is right now being negotiated, and they are paying those negotiators through their 15-cents-per-hundredweight mandatory checkoff with no idea how the negotiations will ultimately affect their businesses and way of life.
Inflated baselines and an inflated methane CO2 equivalent assigned to cows is setting the stage for a head-on collision, a train wreck on the misaligned track laid by DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.
In fact, the Net Zero Initiative has been designed to help everyone but the dairy farmer. It sets up a methane money game for carbon traders at the expense of those dairy farms that have long been environmentally conscious with no-till, cover crops, grazing, and other practices already on their farms.
Small and mid-sized dairy farms that are already at or near carbon-neutral could show smaller reductions for the industry to harvest.
Conversely, the largest dairies installing the newest biogas systems are realizing even this route could become a dead-end because the credits are signed over and sold for big bucks, a few bucks get kicked back to the dairy, but the methane capture becomes the property of other industries outside of the dairy supply chain.
If the industry does not act now to stop the NZI train for a period of re-examination, adjustment and correction, then the current trajectory may actually move food companies clamoring for reductions ever closer to alternatives and analogs that boast their climate claims solely on the fact that they are produced without cows.
This is a big money game that is operating off the backs of our cows, and the checkoff has been at best complicit as a driver.
RNG (renewable natural gas) operators are signing up large (3000+ cows) dairies left and right for digesters and covered lagoons to capture methane piped to clustered scrubbing facilities to be turned into renewable fuel for vehicles or electricity generation. Meanwhile dairy protein analogs are being created without cows by ‘precision fermentation’ startups partnering with the largest global dairy companies.
NZI is the proclaimed vehicle for negotiating the terms for U.S. Dairy to continue, terms based on showing carbon reductions that many family farms may find difficult to meet — especially if the farm is already at or close to carbon neutral.
As DMI’s sustainability negotiators data-collect all previous reductions into farm-by-farm comprehensive baseline estimates, where will those farms find new reductions?
According to DMI staff, over 2000 dairy farms have already gone through their environmental stewardship review via the FARM program to establish their “comprehensive estimates.”
The six organizations, four of them filing IRS 990s under the national dairy checkoff, that launched NZI are: Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) and Newtrient, along with the other two organizations being National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), and International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA).
They have collectively bought-into the global definition that inflates the CO2 equivalent used for methane, effectively committing the cow to perpetual GHG purgatory.
Because the NZI structure is based on continually showing GHG reductions, no farm is insulated with a get-out-of-jail-free-key — not even the largest farms with the most advanced biogas systems.
Why haven’t checkoff funds been used to defend the cow – to get the numbers right, to get the current practices farmers have invested in counted toward reductions not baselines, and to get the methane CO2 equivalent correct — instead of giving in to this notion that feels an awful lot like ‘cows are bad and we are committed to making them better?’
Perhaps it was ignored or embraced because this inflated methane CO2 equivalent gives the suite of tech tools being assembled by DMI’s Newtrient a bigger runway to show reductions — a money maker for the RNG biogas companies and others that will in many cases end up owning the carbon credits after paying the farmer a nominal fee.
Carbon trading rose 164% last year to $851 billion, according to a Reuters January 2022 report. A big chunk of this is coming from the methane capture and fossil fuel replacement of RNG biogas projects, mostly in California but popping up elsewhere at a rapid rate and mostly traded on the California exchange.
Farmers are getting some money for these projects, but they don’t own the carbon credits once they are sold or signed over. When they are sold outside of the dairy supply chain, this reduction becomes someone else’s property, so it is no longer part of the dairy farm’s footprint nor the footprint of their milk buyer.
Likewise, this inflated methane equivalent — along with the emphasis on reductions, not neutrality — has some processors wondering if they’ll be able to come up with the Scope 3 reductions they need in ESG scoring.
They are facing upstream pressure from retailers and consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies as well as asset managers to show reductions, and they have counted on big numbers from their Scope 3 suppliers, the dairy farms.
The problem for dairy processors and dairy farmers comes down to the central definitions of methane equivalent and carbon asset ownership — the rights of farmers to own their past, present and future reductions, whether or not they’ve signed them over as offsets to a milk buyer or a project investor and whether or not they’ve sold the resulting credits on a carbon exchange, and whether or not they’ve installed new practices that are now part of a baseline but represent a new investment every year as they operate their businesses.
Back in June, the American Dairy Coalition added this concern to their list of federal milk pricing priorities because of the impact this climate and carbon tracking will have on milk buying and selling relationships and contracts — and the lack of clarity or fairness in this deal for essential food producers at the origination point that is closest to nature, the farm.
ADC worded their “carbon asset ownership” priority this way: “No matter where a dairy farm’s milk is processed, that farm should be able to retain 100% ownership at all times of its earned and achieved carbon assets, even if this information is shared with milk buyers to describe the resulting products that are made from the milk.”
For its part, IDFA took a swing last Friday, going one step farther to recommend global accounting methods that would allow the dairy supply chain (farmers and processors) to retain carbon credits even if they are sold on a carbon exchange or signed over to an asset company that invested in an on-farm technology.
IDFA executives penned the Sept. 9 opinion piece in Agri-Pulse laying out the concerns of their members who are starting to realize the future consequences of the rapid and inflated monetization of methane — and the race to sell carbon credits — leaving dairy processors unable to get those credits they were counting on from the farms that supply them with milk, while at the same time being stuck facing the cow’s inflated methane CO2 equivalent in their downstream Scope 3 even while they try to get reductions in their own controlled areas of Scopes 1 and 2.
When dairy farms no longer own their reduction or cannot show a large reduction because they are already virtually neutral, processors become concerned about how they will gain the Scope 3 reductions that are part of the ESG scoring the large retailers and global food companies are pushing.
All of this has come down through the non-governmental organizations like World Wildlife Fund (WWF), investment and asset management sector via the World Economic Forum (WEF), the global corporate structures through the Sustainability Roundtable and through government entities via the United Nations Agenda 2030. DMI has been at those tables for at least 14 years.
“It is becoming clearer every day that the global accounting standards underpinning GHG measurement and reporting are biased against the very people making the (GHG) reductions,” the IDFA executives wrote in their opinion.
In other words, while some farmers are beginning to profit from GHG-reducing practices that are turned into offsets and traded on the carbon markets, the system is tilted against them because it leaves them without the offsets they traded and leaves them in a position of having to continually reduce in order to secure a position in the value chain.
IDFA points out that under the current rules, once the offset is sold outside of the value chain as a carbon credit – it is gone. The current GHG accounting system says only the buyer of that reduction can claim ownership.
Those farms can no longer claim their own reduction, and it means the company buying milk or other commodities from a producer cannot integrate the reduction into the description of their final product.
This weakens U.S. Dairy, the IDFA opinion states, and it makes dairy farmers less competitive sources of pledge-meeting carbon reductions for retailers and manufacturers – setting real dairy up for fake dairy dilution with the inclusion of whey proteins and other pieces of milk that are being produced in fermentation vats by genetically modified yeast, fungi and bacteria, as well as other analogs.
A bigger problem not mentioned in the IDFA opinion may be the inflated baselines that leave farms that have implemented best practices years ago positioned to show smaller reductions.
While the American Farm Bureau earlier this year lobbied against proposed SEC accounting intrusions for quantifying ESG scoring, it has been silent on the issue of carbon asset ownership for food producers. AFBF has also said little about the recently signed climate bill (Inflation Reduction Act).
National Milk Producers Federation, on the other hand, as reported last week, sang its praises for being right in line with where the industry’s Net Zero Initiative is going.
DMI voices its pride to have been leading the way, positioning its Innovation Center as founded by dairy farmers. They have conceded that dairy farms impact the environment and launched NZI as a collective pledge to reduce that impact.
In other words, DMI submitted to the idea that cows impact the environment, but never fear, through NZI, the Innovation Center and Newtrient, farmers will make them better, and turn them into a climate solution.
This is a fool’s errand given the inflated methane equivalent and the movement of carbon reductions to entities outside of the dairy supply chain such as paper mills, bitcoin miners, and the fossil fuel industry.
Did dairy farmers have a say in any of this? Not really. They were kept in the dark as this was developed over the past decade or more, and the boards representing them on the six organizations that launched NZI (four of them under the checkoff umbrella) have been duped.
Farmers are largely unaware of the NZI train, and their silence as it runs down the track becomes a further signal to the industry and to the government that they approve of the track they are on.
As the industry sits at this crossing, the Net Zero train full of dairy farmer passengers is barreling high speed down the track DMI has laid.
This train must be stopped because the future-bound track needs to be re-examined, adjusted and re-aligned so that the passengers are not ejected by the train wreck – the accelerated consolidator — that lies ahead.
Fundamentals must be vigorously revisited. Every passenger on that train, every dairy farm, must be recognized as an essential food producer, get credit for their prior investment in current practices, and be able to retain ownership of their carbon assets as part of their farm’s footprint — even if these assets have been provided, sold or signed over as offsets to milk buyers or project investors or traders on an exchange.
Furthermore, this train – built with farmer dollars – should protect the so-called founding farmers from being denied a market based on the size of their GHG reductions. If a carbon neutral farm can’t show reductions to its milk buyer, will that buyer look for other downstream vendors who can fulfill their Scope 3 reduction needs?
Will those vendors be other farms with larger perceived GHG reductions or will they be alternative analogs created without cows?
Nestle announced this week it is partnering with Perfect Day toward that end. In fact, the proliferation of plant-based, cell cultured, DNA-altered microbe excrement analogs for dairy protein and other elements are entering the market on big GHG reduction claims based on being made without the cow and the inflated methane CO2 equivalent she has been assigned!
The current standard for methane CO2 equivalency is inflated by orders of magnitude. Dr. Frank Mitloehner has addressed this repeatedly and other researchers back his view with efforts to change it.
Remember, DMI and company have ignored or embraced this definition. At the same time, the Innovation Center’s data collection of progressive accomplishments are included in the baselines from which new reductions (opportunities) must be found.
These two trains run in opposite directions for a future head-on collision on a mis-aligned track.
The bigger the perceived GHG problem, the bigger the reduction through technology, and the bigger the monetization of that reduction outside of the dairy supply chain. At the same time, this creates an even bigger problem for farms that are unable to participate in biogas projects, farms that don’t fit the Innovation Center’s 3500-cow-dairy-as-solution template, farms that may be carbon neutral or close to it already.
DMI and company have played fast and loose with the truth.
Farmshine readers will recall the glaring error reported more than a year ago in the white paper written by WWF for DMI. It showcased these biogas projects and the 3500-cow dairy template it proclaimed could be Net Zero in five years, not 30.
That paper inflated U.S. Dairy’s total GHG footprint by an order of magnitude! A Pennsylvania dairy farmer brought the error to Farmshine’s attention. In turn, the magnitude of the error was confirmed by Dr. Mitloehner who then contacted DMI. A corrected copy of the white paper magically replaced all internet files with no discussion from DMI or WWF. That number was changed, but all of the assumptions in the paper were left as-is.
Put simply: DMI does not appear to be concerned about inflating the size of dairy’s perceived GHG problem. The bigger the perceived problem, the bigger the reduction that can be monetized, but that is now happening outside of the dairy supply chain.
By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine (combined 2 part series Aug. 12 and 19, 2022)
In Class I utilization markets, the landscape is rapidly shifting, and we should pay attention, lest we end up with ‘cow islands’ and ‘milk deserts.’
Farmshine readers may recall in November 2019, I wrote in the Market Moos column about comments made Nov. 5 by Randy Mooney, chairman of both the DFA and NMPF boards during the annual convention in New Orleans of National Milk Producers Federation together with the two checkoff boards — National Dairy Board and United Dairy Industry Association.
Mooney gave a glimpse of the future in his speech that was podcast. (Listen here at 13:37 minutes). He said he had been “looking at a map,” seeing “plants on top of plants,” and he urged the dairy industry to “collectively consolidate,” to target limited resources “toward those plants that are capable of making the new and innovative products.”
One week later, Dean Foods (Southern Foods Group LLC) filed for bankruptcy as talks between Dean and DFA about a DFA purchase were already underway. It was the first domino right on the heels of Mooney’s comments, followed by Borden filing Chapter 11 two months later in January, and followed by three-years of fresh fluid milk plant closings and changes in ownership against the backdrop of declining fluid milk sales and an influx of new dairy-based beverage innovations, ultrafiltered and shelf-stable milk, as well as lookalike alternatives and blends.
The map today looks a lot different from the one described by Mooney in November 2019 when he urged the industry to “collectively consolidate.” The simultaneous investments in extended shelf-life (ESL) and aseptic packaging are also a sign of the direction of ‘innovation’ Mooney may have been referring to.
Two months prior to Mooney issuing that challenge, I was covering a September 2019 industry meeting in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where dairy checkoff presenters made it clear that the emphasis of the future is on launching innovative new beverages and dairy-‘based’ products.
Here is an excerpt from my opinion/analysis of the discussion at that time:
“While we are told that consumers are ditching the gallon jug (although it is still by far the largest sector of sales), and we are told consumers are looking for these new products; at the same time, we are also told that it is the dairy checkoff’s innovation and revitalization strategy to ‘work with industry partners to move consumers away from the habit of reaching for the jug and toward looking for these new and innovative products’ that checkoff dollars are launching.”
These strategy revelations foreshadowed where the fluid milk markets appear to be heading today, and this is also obvious from recent Farmshine articles showing the shifting landscape in cow, farm, and milk production numbers.
When viewing the picture of the map that is emerging, big questions come to mind:
Are today’s Class I milk markets under threat of becoming ‘milk deserts’ as the dairy industry consolidates into ‘cow islands’?
Would dairy farmers benefit from less regulation of Class I pricing in the future so producers outside of the “collectively consolidating” major-player-complex are freer to seek strategies and alliances of their own, to carve out market spaces with consumers desiring and rediscovering fresh and local, to put their checkoff dollars toward promotion that helps their farms remain viable and keeps their regions from becoming milk deserts?
What role is the industry’s Net Zero Initiative playing behind the scenes, the monitoring, scoring, tracking of carbon, the way energy intensity may be viewed for transportation and refrigeration and other factors in Scope 1, 2 and 3 ESG (Environment, Social, Governance) scores?
Shelf-stable milk may provide solutions for some emerging (or are they self-inflicted?) milk access and distribution dilemmas, and maybe one view of ESG scoring favors it? But ultimately it also means milk can come from cow islands to milk deserts — from anywhere, to anywhere.
It also becomes clearer why the whole milk bill is having so much trouble moving forward. The industry machine gives lip-service support to the notion of whole milk in schools, but the reality is, the industry is chasing other lanes on this highway to ‘improve’ the school milk ‘experience’ and ensure milk ‘access’ through innovations that at the same time pave the road from the ‘cow islands’ to the ‘milk deserts.’
It is now clearer — to me — why the Class I mover formula is such a hotly debated topic.
If major industry-driving consolidators are looking to transition away from turning over cow to consumer fresh, local/regional milk supplies by turning toward beverage stockpiles that can sit in a warehouse ‘Coca-Cola-style’ at ambient temperatures for six to 12 months, it’s no wonder the consolidators want the ‘higher of’ formula to stay buried. What a subversion that was in the 2018 Farm Bill.
In fact, if the industry is pursuing a transition from fresh, fluid milk to a more emphasis on shelf-stable aseptic milk, such a transition would, in effect, turn the federal milk marketing orders’ purpose and structure — that is tied to Class I fresh fluid milk — completely upside down.
Landscape change has been in motion for years, but let’s look at the past 6 years — Dean had already closed multiple plants and cut producers in the face of Walmart opening it’s own milk bottling plant in Spring 2018. The Class I ‘mover’ formula for pricing fluid milk — the only milk class required to participate in Federal Milk Marketing Orders — was changed in the 2018 Farm Bill that went into effect Sept. 2018. The new Class I mover formula was implemented by USDA in May 2019, resulting in net losses to dairy farmers on their payments for Class I of well over $750 million across 43 months since then.
(Side note: Under the formula change, $436 million of Class I value stayed in processor pockets from May 2019 through October 2019, alone. DFA purchased 44 Dean Foods plants in May 2019 and became by far the largest Class I processor at that time.)
These and other landscape changes were already in motion when Mooney spoke on Nov. 5, 2019 at the convention of NMPF, NDB and UDIA describing the milk map and seeing plants on top of plants and issuing the challenge to “collectively consolidate” to target resources to those plants that can make the innovative new products.
One week later, Nov. 12, 2019, Dean Foods filed for bankruptcy protection to reorganize and sell assets (mainly to DFA).
Since 2019, this and other major changes have occurred as consolidation of Class I milk markets tightens substantially around high population swaths, leaving in wake the new concerns about milk access that spur the movement toward ESL and aseptic milk. A chain reaction.
What does Mooney’s map look like today after his 2019 call for “collective consolidation” and the targeting of investments to plants that can make the innovative products, the plants that DMI fluid milk revitalization head Paul Ziemnisky told farmers in a 2021 conference call were going to need to be “dual-purpose” — taking in all sorts of ingredients, making all sorts of beverages and products, blending, ultrafiltering, and, we see it now, aseptically packaging?
In addition to the base of Class I processing it already owned a decade ago, the string of DFA mergers has been massive. The most recent acquisitions, along with exits by competitors, essentially funnel even more of the market around key population centers to DFA with its collective consolidation strategy and investments in ESL and aseptic packaging.
The South —
The 14 Southeast states (Maryland to Florida and west to Arkansas) have 29% of the U.S. population. If you include Texas and Missouri crossover milk flows, we are talking about 37% of the U.S. population.
The major players in the greater Southeast fluid milk market include DFA enlarged by its Dean purchases, Kroger supplied by Select and DFA, Prairie Farms with its own plants, DFA and Prairie Farms with joint ownership of Hiland Dairy plants, Publix supermarkets with its own plants, an uncertain future for four remaining Borden plants in the region as Borden has exited even the retail market in some of these states, and a handful of other fluid milk processors.
Just looking at the greater Chicago, Milwaukee, Green Bay metropolis, the population totals are a lake-clustered 6% of U.S. population. Given the recent closure by Borden of the former Dean plants in Chemung, Illinois and De Pere, Wisconsin, this market is in flux with DFA owning various supply plants including a former Dean plant in Illinois and one in Iowa with Prairie Farms having purchased several of the Dean plants serving the region.
In the Mideast, there is Coca Cola with fairlife, Walmart and Kroger among the supermarkets with their own processing, and DFA owning two former Dean plants in Ohio, two in Indiana, two in Michigan, and a handful of other bottlers.
In the West: DFA owns a former Dean plant in New Mexico, two in Colorado, two in Montana, one in Idaho, two in Utah, one in Nevada and one in California, as well as other plants, of course.
The Northeast —
This brings us to the Northeast from Pennsylvania to Maine, where 18% of the U.S. population lives, and where consolidation of Class I markets, especially around the major Boston-NYC-Philadelphia metropolis have consolidated rapidly against the backdrop of declining fluid milk sales and a big push by non-dairy alternative beverage launches from former and current dairy processors.
DFA owns two former Dean plants in Massachusetts, one in New York, all four in Pennsylvania, one in New Jersey. The 2019 merger with St. Alban’s solidified additional New England fluid milk market under DFA. In 2013, DFA had purchased the Dairy Maid plant from the Rona family in Maryland; in 2014, the prominent Oakhurst plant in Maine; and in 2017, the Cumberland Dairy plant in South Jersey.
More recently, DFA struck a 2021 deal with Wakefern Foods to supply their Bowl and Basket and other milk, dairy, and non-dairy brands for the various supermarket chains and convenience stores under the Wakefern umbrella covering the greater New York City metropolis into New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. This milk had previously been supplied by independent farms, processed at Wakefern’s own iconic Readington Farms plant in North Jersey, which Wakefern subsequently closed in January 2022.
The long and twisted tale begs additional questions:
As Borden has dwindled in short order from 14 plants to five serving the most populous region of the U.S. – the Southland — what will happen with the remaining five plants in Ohio, Kentucky, Georgia, Louisiana, and Florida? What will become of Elsie the Cow and Borden’s iconic brands and new products?
What percentage of the “collectively consolidated” U.S. fluid milk market does DFA now completely or partially own and/or control?
Will the “collective consolidation” in the form of closures, sales and mergers continue to push shelf-stable ESL and aseptic milk into Class I retail markets and especially schools… and will consumers, especially kids, like this milk and drink it?
What role are rising energy prices, climate ESG-scoring and net-zero pledges and proclamations playing in the plant closures and shifts toward fewer school and retail milk deliveries, less refrigeration, more forward thrust for shelf-stable and lactose-free milk, as well as innovations into evermore non-dairy launches and so-called flexitarian blending and pairing?
Looking ahead at how not only governments around the world, but also corporations, creditors and investors are positioning for climate/carbon tracking, ESG scoring and the so-called Great Reset, the Net Zero economy, there’s little doubt that these factors are driving the direction of fluid milk “innovation” over the 12 years that DMI’s Innovation Center has coordinated the so-called ‘fluid milk revitalization’ initiative — at the same time developing the FARM program and the Net Zero Initiative.
The unloading of nine Borden plants in five months under Gregg Engles, the CEO of “New Borden” and former CEO of “Old Dean” is also not surprising. Engles is referred to in chronicles of dairy history not only as “the great consolidator” but also as “industry transformer.”
In addition to being CEO of Borden, Engles is chairman and managing partner of one of the two private equity investment firms that purchased the Borden assets in bankruptcy in June 2020. Investment firms fancy themselves at the forefront of ESG scoring.
Engles is also one of only two U.S. members of the Danone board of directors. Danone, owner of former Dean’s WhiteWave, including Silk plant-based and Horizon Organic milk, has positioned itself in the forefront on 2030 ESG goals, according to its 2019 ‘one planet, one health’ template that has also driven consolidation and market loss in the Northeast.
There is plenty of food-for-thought to chew on here from the positives to the negatives of innovation, consolidation, and climate ESGs hitting full-throttle in tandem. These issues require forward-looking discussion so dairy farmers in areas with substantial reliance on Class I fluid milk sales can navigate the road ahead and examine all lanes on this highway that appears to be leading to cow islands and milk deserts.
Checkoff cites ‘uncontrollable circumstances’ bringing shelf-stable milk to schools
By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Aug. 12, 2022
DALLAS, Tex. — Last week, yet another round of plant closures was announced by Borden, well-timed as a factor said to be driving shelf-stable milk into schools and other venues in affected regions like the Southeast; however, an industry “innovation” shift to the convenience, “experience ” and reduced deliveries (carbon/energy cost and intensity) said to be associated with lactose-free extended shelf-life and aseptically-packaged milk has been gradually in the making for months, if not years.
The Dallas-based Borden, owned by two private equity firms, will close fluid milk plants in Dothan, Alabama and Hattiesburg, Mississippi “no later than Sept. 30, 2022, and will no longer produce in these states,” the company said.
The Aug. 3 announcement represents Borden’s fifth and sixth plant closures in as many months.
A string of sell-offs and closings since April have occurred under “the great consolidator” — former Dean Foods CEO Gregg Engles. Engles has been CEO of ‘new Borden’ since June 2020, when his Capital Peak Partners, along with Borden bankruptcy creditor KKR & Co., together purchased substantially all assets to form New Dairy OpCo, doing business as Borden Dairy.
“While the decision was difficult, the company has determined that it could no longer support continued production at those locations,” Borden said in the Aug. 3 statement that was virtually identical to the statement released April 4 announcing previous closures of its Miami, Florida and Charleston, South Carolina plants by May 31, including a stated withdrawal from the South Carolina retail market as well.
In addition to ending fluid milk processing at six of its 14 plants — four in the Southeast, two in the Midwest — Borden announced in late June its plans to sell all Texas holdings to Hiland Dairy, including three plants in Austin, Conroe and Dallas, associated branches and other assets.
Hiland Dairy, headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, is jointly owned by the nation’s largest milk cooperative Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), headquartered in Kansas City, Kansas, and Prairie Farms Dairy, a milk cooperative headquartered in Edwardsville, Illinois that includes the former Wisconsin-based Swiss Valley co-op.
DFA already separately owns the Borden brand license for cheese.
Also in June, Borden announced an end to fluid milk operations in Illinois and Wisconsin at two former Dean plants the company purchased jointly with Select Milk Producers in June 2021 after a U.S. District Court required DFA to divest them.
Borden closed the Harvard (Chemung Township), Illinois plant in July, and local newspaper accounts note the community is hopeful a food processing company other than dairy will purchase the FDA-approved facilities. Borden also ceased bottling at De Pere, Wisconsin on July 9, but continues to make sour cream products at that location.
The combined plant closures and sales by Borden now stand at nine of the 14 plants, leaving an uncertain future for the remaining five plants in Cleveland, Ohio; London, Kentucky; Decatur, Georgia; Lafayette, Louisiana; and Winter Haven, Florida. The sales and closures, including announced withdrawals from some markets, having combined effects of funneling more market share to DFA and to some degree Prairie Farms and others against a backdrop of additional Class I milk plant closures and reorganizations during the 24 months since assets from number one Dean and number two Borden were sold in separate bankruptcy filings.
“Borden products have a distribution area which covers a wide swath of the lower Southeast, including the Gulf’s coastal tourist areas. The Dutch Chocolate is a favorite of milk connoisseurs, and their recent introductions of flavored milks have received great reviews,” an Aug. 6 Milksheds Blog post by AgriVoice stated. A number of Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi farms may be affected by the most recent closures.
Meanwhile, the closures are affecting milk access for schools and at retail. According to its website, Borden serves 9,000 schools in the U.S.
In recent weeks, photos have been circulating of empty dairy cases in the Green Bay, Milwaukee and greater Chicago region with signs stating: “Due to milk plant closures, we are currently out of stock on one gallon and half gallons of milk.”
School milk contracts in that region are also reportedly impacted.
However, most notable is the impact on school milk contracts in the Southeast as students begin returning to classrooms.
According to the Aug. 5 online Dairy Alliance newsletter to Southeast dairy farmers, the regional checkoff organization confirmed the latest round of Borden closures are plants that “currently provide milk to 494 school districts… and use around 95 million units a school year.”
The Dairy Alliance reported it is working with schools “to keep milk the top choice for students… We do not want schools to apply for an emergency waiver that would exempt them from USDA requirements of serving milk until they find a supplier.
“These uncontrollable circumstances will lead to more aseptic milk in the region, but this is better than losing milk completely in school districts that have little or no options,” the newsletter stated.
Southeast dairy farmers report their mailed copy of a Dairy Alliance newsletter in July had already forecast more shelf-stable milk coming to schools as part of the strategic plan to protect and grow milk sales by ensuring milk accessibility and improving the school milk experience. In addition to the Borden plant closures, the report cited school milk “hurdles” such as inadequate refrigerated space requiring multiple frequent deliveries amid rising fuel and energy costs and labor shortages.
Southeast dairy farmers were informed that the Dairy Alliance School Wellness Team was already working to mitigate bidding issues with shelf-stable milk for school districts in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia.
Diversified Foods Inc. (DFI), headquartered in New Orleans, was identified as the main supplier of this shelf-stable milk to schools in the region, reportedly sourcing milk through Maryland-Virginia, DFA and Borden.
In addition, DFI is a main sponsor of the Feeding America conference taking place in Philadelphia this week (Aug 9-11), where it is previewing for nutrition program attendees their new lactose-free shelf-stable chocolate milk. DFI also sponsored the School Nutrition Association national conference in Orlando earlier this summer, and social media photos of the booth show the shelf-stable, aseptically packaged versions of brands like DairyPure, TruMoo, Borden and Prairie Farms, along with DFI’s own ‘Pantry Fresh’ shelf-stable milk in supermarket and school sizes.
Coinciding with the flurry of Borden closings and shelf-stable milk hookups for schools, DFA announced last week (Aug. 1) that it will acquire two extended shelf-life (ESL) plants from the Orrville, Ohio based Smith Dairy. The SmithFoods plants will operate under DFA Dairy Brands as Richmond Beverage Solutions, Richmond, Indiana and Pacific Dairy Solutions, Pacific, Missouri. A SmithFoods statement noted the transfer would not affect the farms or employees associated with these plants.
This acquisition aligns with DFA’s similar strategy to “increase investment and expand ownership in this (shelf-stable) space… and create synergies between our other extended shelf-life and aseptic facilities,” the DFA statement noted.
DAVOS — Let’s follow your checkoff money all the way to Davos, where Klaus Schwab and friends, known as the World Economic Forum (WEF), gather annually in Switzerland. This is where globalist elites have been plotting and planning the net zero economy, complete with food transformation maps.
On May 26, your message was delivered and your future was signed up, with your money through your checkoff programs — a plan 14 years in the making under the DMI umbrella of multiple so-called non-profit foundations and alliances.
Some of the same global actors in the WEF food transformation movement are also represented in the various non-profit alliances that were created by your checkoff in the 2008 through 2012 time-period.
At Davos, the May 26 panel on “redirecting capital in agriculture” is where “farmers voices were heard for the first time,” they said.
Don’t worry, the purpose was to get you the money from Davos billionaires to do all the things they will be requiring you to do to be part of the new net zero economy they are creating with the net zero goal DMI has set for you — despite the fact you didn’t vote on it or sign up for it, and experts can’t even agree on what it means or how it will be measured.
But that’s okay, your checkoff created surveys, sustainability platforms and strategic alliance non-profits to bring the largest processors together “pre-competitively” to set the timelines, plan the parameters, and craft your messages.
DMI “thought leaders” often talk about getting ahead of “societal issues” such as animal care and the environment via the Innovation Center — to avoid regulation. That is the basis of the FARM program, for example.
But the reality is the regulatory side has at least some accountability — a process via our democratic republic if we still have one.
What democratic process was used to determine the rules your farm will live by — as decreed by the corporations buying what you produce, and now also the access to capital you will need to continue?
Consumers have not asked for this, and neither have you. But your checkoff has done it for you and will help you navigate.
DMI issued a press release just a few days before Davos about how the Sustainability Summit they held state-side to help you, the farmer, navigate this new future they have been creating with your checkoff money.
“Never has the opportunity been greater for us to come together and demonstrate our collective impact,” said DMI CEO Barb O’Brien in opening the pre-Davos Summit. “And frankly, never has it been more urgent as we work to meet the growing demands and expectations of both customers and consumers around personal wellness, environmental sustainability and food security.”
These are pretty words.
The press release cites the U.S. Dairy Stewardship Commitment as having 35 companies representing 75% of the milk market signed on. The four pieces DMI is working on were listed in a vague way: 1) utilizing new ‘digital frontiers’ for point-of-purchase ‘strategies’, 2) promoting a new definition of ‘health and wellness’, 3) fulfilling an ‘impact imperative’ they say exists among consumers positioning U.S. Dairy as the leader in addressing societal challenges such as climate change, and 4) targeting ‘inclusive relevance,’ which O’Brien said Gen Z is the driver as the most diverse generation to-date with societal expectations for companies and brands.
Two weeks later, the thought leader representing you in Davos told the gathered elite, the billionaires, the power-centers, that your soil has “perpetual societal value” and should be invested-in and traded as an “asset class,” that farmers are the “eco workforce to be deployed,” and that investors and lenders should “redirect capital” to “de-risk” the investments farmers must make as “climate warriors that are planting the future.”
We missed that memo. Lots of buzz terms here, so let them sink in.
Here’s the reality: Farmers’ voices were NOT heard in Davos. Instead, what was heard was the voices of the WEF billionaires, the WWF supply-chain leveraging model, the string-pullers (thought leaders), and the plan-developers.
We don’t even know all the tentacles behind the pretty words used to describe what you have already been signed up for. Rest assured, DMI will roll them out gradually through the Innovation Center and FARM, and investors, lenders and others will put them in the fine print of farmer access to capital and markets.
It’s more truthful to say the farmers’ voice is being stolen in this process.
Your autonomy, independence and decision-making is being overridden. Your permission is being granted for the WEF Davos billionaires to step right up, help themselves, and determine your options, your future through their investments in a soils asset class — because, climate.
During the WEF panel, it was Erin Fitzgerald who carried “the farmers’ voice” to Davos.
Fitzgerald is CEO of U.S. Farmers and Ranchers in Action (name changed in 2020 from the previous U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance). She became the USFRA CEO in 2018 after spending the previous 11 years working for DMI as Vice President of Sustainability and several other roles and titles while the FARM program and net zero framework was being developed. She spoke “for farmers and ranchers” in four sessions at the WEF annual meeting in Davos, including one panel about redirecting capital in agriculture, where she talked about soil as an “asset class” and farmers as the “eco workforce.”
During her comments on the Davos panel about “redirecting capital,” she made it clear that your consumer is “no longer the person at the checkout” in the grocery store. She said it’s the pension fund investors looking for low-risk investments.
Even that is not entirely accurate. The truth is that DMI — in the creation of its many precompetitive alliances — has its sights set on bigger fish: the billionaires at Davos, the venture capitalists, the global corporations investing in climate.
In fact, this is being driven behind the scenes by Edelman, the global PR firm that receives $16 to $18 million in checkoff funds annually as the contractor for DMI over the past decade of plotting and planning. Edelman is a key player at Davos. GENYOUth was the Edelman brainchild, and outgoing CEO Alexis Glick was originally tapped by Richard Edelman, himself, to lead GENYOUth as a former financial analyst who made Davos a high point of her itinerary.
Back to the WEF panel on May 26 — the messages that have been crafted were touted, along with a narrative about what you will do in the next 30 harvests as the “eco workforce” of the “new global net zero economy.”
Listening to some of the livestreamed sessions, other panels highlighted the future of food, energy and financing to all be rooted in carbon impact.
Some panels noted the fast pace of the WEF global transformation is creating inflation pain, but the globalist elites are not concerned, even saying “that’s a good thing.”
Other panels delved into individual carbon tracking, to measure, record and score what each one of us eats, where we go, how we get there.
Truth be told, consumers are also being signed up for the net zero economy, although most don’t even know it yet. In a free America, I’m not sure we voted on this global-control-fast-track either.
Fitzgerald, whose role is described as “building sustainable food systems of the future,” laid it out for the crowd of investors, corporations, regulators, and government officials.
On the Davos stage, she said she brought the farmers’ message and referred specifically to the DMI board chair as “my chair Marilyn, a farmer from Pennsylvania.” (Marilyn Hershey also sits on the USFRA board.)
In the ‘redirecting capital’ discussion, another layer of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) model of leveraging the few players in the middle of the food supply chain to move consumers and producers at both ends was very much in play.
This is not surprising. The DMI alliance with WWF also spanned a 12-year period from 2008 to 2020 when all of these non-profit alliances were formed under the DMI umbrella to bring global processors together as a platform for “pre-competitively” determining how all farms will operate in the future.
Your innovation and hard work were mentioned, but no credit was given to where you are, what you already accomplish, as farmers. It is all forward-looking to annually “make progress” over “the next 30 harvests.”
The stage was set for farmers to see capital “redirected” to de-risk certain types of operations and to make the soil you farm an “asset class.”
“We officially have our first solution,” declared the Davos panel moderator, turning to the panelist sitting beside Fitzgerald, saying “that’s your area, let’s do it.” Who was this panelist? None other than David MacLennan, the board chair and CEO of Cargill, and a former member of the Chicago Board of Trade and Board of Options Exchange.
Think about this for a moment. Soil as an asset class dovetails nicely with the 30 x 30 land grab, another WEF / WWF / Great Reset / Build Back Better invention.
Lured by money or financing, the soil you farm — if it becomes a tradable asset class with financing channeled to certain practices begs this question: Whose land does it become and what will be your accountability through the Security and Exchange Commission or the Commodity Futures Trading Commission for disclosures? Farm Bureau is already sounding the alarm on proposed rules about supply chain producers being an open book to the SEC for claims made by companies buying their raw commodities.
More importantly, who will make the decisions on your farm? Fitzgerald asked the audience to “put aside the term ‘farmer’ and think about ‘these people’ as the “eco workforce.’”
Your voice, through your checkoff, just went into the den of thieves to offer your land, your future, your autonomy — as a farmer, rancher, landowner, generational steward of God-given resources in your community — and put it on a silver platter for the Davos global elites under the feel-good message of farmer as climate warrior, an eco workforce planting the future in the net zero economy.
They said your voice was heard, your story was told, and they’ll get you the investment funds for projects. In “thinking about soils as a perpetual asset to society,” Fitzgerald said investors can do what was done for the renewable energy sector in 2008 to “prop it up and get it moving.”
“This eco workforce has boots on the ground,” she said. “They have every bit of capability, but they’re going to be battling the real effects of disrupted markets and climate change, and they also have unbelievable talent. Our farmers are doing amazing work as climate eco warriors. Are we as business agents of change here at Davos really creating the finance models to de-risk their investment to let them plant the future and be the eco warriors they can be in the fight on climate change?”
More pretty words that might sound inspiring to some, until we pull back the layers and realize deals are being made with the devil.
By Sherry Bunting, published Farmshine, Feb. 18, 2022
WASHINGTON — As reported in the Feb. 11 Farmshine, USDA announced a ‘transitional standards’ rule on Feb. 4 for milk, whole grains, and sodium for school years 2022-2023 and 2023-2024.
The transitional standards are only in place while USDA works with stakeholders on long-term meal standards through a new rulemaking.
The proposed rule for the longer-term is expected to come from USDA in fall 2022 and will become effective in school year 2024-25. It will be based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, but USDA says it is conducting a public comment and review process related to the standards and to the “gradual implementation” plan it will develop based in part on stakeholder input.
In the official transitional standards rule, USDA notes that full implementation of its 2012 meal pattern requirements for milk, grains and sodium have been delayed at intervals due to legislative and administrative actions. “Through multiple annual appropriations bills, Congress directed USDA to provide flexibility for these specific requirements.”
Now is the time to comment before March 24, 2022 and to call for an end to the prohibition of whole milk in schools. Request that USDA restore the choice of whole milk in schools by commenting at the online rulemaking portal https://www.regulations.gov/commenton/FNS-2020-0038-2936
Comments and questions can also be sent to: Tina Namian, Chief, School Programs Branch, Policy and Program Development Division—4th Floor, Food and Nutrition Service, 1320 Braddock Place, Alexandria, VA 22314; telephone: 703-305-2590. Include FNS-2020-0038-2936 in your correspondence.
In a rare move Feb. 7, the American Association of School Superintendents (AASA) made a public media statement on the transitional standards — pointing out their concern that the long-term standards will be ‘more stringent’ due to the restrictive Dietary Guidelines that were approved by USDA and HHS in 2020.
The Association of School Superintendents stated: “It is important to acknowledge that healthy meals are only healthy if students eat them.”
Agreed! This applies to the milk also. Students miss out on 21 minerals, 13 vitamins, complete high quality protein, a healthy matrix of fat and several nutrients of concern when they don’t actually consume the milk offered or served at school. Those nutrients ‘on paper’ are then not realized. Many key nutrients of concern are also fat-soluble. A study at St. Michael’s Children Hospital, Toronto, showed children consuming whole milk had 2.5 to 3x the Vit. D absorption compared with those consuming low-fat milk, and they were at 40% less risk of becoming overweight! Details were presented in a June 2021 hearing in the Pennsylvania Senate, listen here
Milk consumption plummeted and waste skyrocketed since USDA’s 2012 fat-free/low-fat milk rules were set for both ‘served’ milk and competing a la carte offerings. Studies by USDA and others show milk is now one of the most discarded items at school. In fact, USDA did a plate waste study comparing 2011 to 2013 (pre-/ and post-change) They focused on fruits and vegetables, but saw milk decrease significantly, waiving it off as though it were due to an “unrelated policy change.” Technically, it was the smart snacks rules for beverages and it WAS related to the 2012 standards as both were implemented together.
See the losses in Tables 2 through 4 below in ‘selection’ and ‘consumption’ of milk from the USDA study reflecting a 24% reduction in student selection of milk (offer vs. serve) after the 2012 fat-free/low-fat implementation and 10 to 12% reduction in consumption among those students being ‘served’ or selecting the restricted fat-free/low-fat white milk option or fat-free flavored milk option. That’s a double whammy for childhood nutrition and for dairy farm viability. Since 2012, at least one generation of future milk drinkers has been lost.
MADISON, Wis. — A picture of the future of dairy was painted with a boastful sort of “insider” arrogance by dairy checkoff leaders on the second day of the World Dairy Expo during DMI’s ‘tanbark talk’ on transformation. It left me both shocked and uninspired, exasperated.
The very next day, a message of light and inspiration was presented in a meeting hosted by American Dairy Coalition (ADC), talking about inspiring loyal consumers as part of a discussion on the viability of America’s dairy farms in the face of rapidly launching confusion via plant-based and lab-grown lookalikes.
Without necessarily challenging DMI’s assumptions about Generation Z and the “future” of dairy, ADC’s guest speaker, a consumer-packaged-goods expert, painted a different picture. From the marketing surveys shared, it appears that future consumers, those under 23 years old today, are much more apt to be brand loyal than their Millennial parents.
The question is: Who is inspiring loyalty to milk, whole milk, real milk, real dairy, real beef, real animal protein? Not DMI.
DMI wants to take your checkoff dollars down into the darkness of the gaming world. Their guest speaker and futurist collaborator talked about the Gen Z gamers, the immersive learning, the tik tok generation.
One comment made me cringe. “It’s something parents and grandparents don’t like, but it is good for dairy,” said futurist Bob Johansen about the dark world of gaming that has, in his opinion, claimed the perspectives and choices of the next generation.
Repeating the platitude of “meeting consumers where they are”, the DMI presentation left this reporter in a bit of a shock. Do we really know where consumers are? Who is telling us these things and what is it really based on? So much more enlightening was the next day’s presentation about “inspiring loyalty” by reminding consumers about “what they love.”
I believe most dairy farmers want to inspire consumers to what’s real in life instead of being sucked into the unreal and confusing world of gaming.
Where are my thoughts going and what did you miss in the DMI panel at Expo? Not much, really. I heard the DMI dairy transformation strategist suggest that she “likes saying milk has 13 essential nutrients,” but that she thinks it will be so much “cooler to identify, annotate and digitize the 2500 to 3000 metabolites in milk and then be able to pair them to products and brands in the personalized app-driven diets of the future.”
That’s right folks, DMI paints a picture of future diets digitized by apps and algorithms to match up to the individual metabolic needs and desires of consumers. In other words, they won’t really know WHAT they are consuming, just a mix-and-match of elements as presented by global processing corporations that are “all-in” for this future of food confusion.
DMI is in the self-fulfilling prophecy business. They aren’t meeting consumers where they are. They aren’t inspiring consumers to be better, eat better, and enjoy dairy. They are touting USDA dietary policy to the point that even their fellow GENYOUth board members and collaborators are, in some cases, promoting the competition.
Case in point this week, chef Carla Hall, a longtime board member of GENYOUth, who DMI leaders have touted over the past 10 years, is right now running Youtube videos teaching consumers “how to go plant-based without going vegan.”
And guess what? Hall is targeting milk for the ousting. She promotes almond, oat, cashew etc ‘milks’ and guides consumers on how to replace real milk with these fakes in their diets, their recipes, their lives.
When a Facebook post about Hall’s milk-replacing Youtube videos was posted by a New York dairy producer asking “why is this person on the GENYOUth board?” another dairy producer responded wondering if she really was on the dairy-farmer-founded and primarily funded GENYOUth board.
Yours truly, here, replied on Facebook with a simple “yes she is” accompanied by a link to the listing of GENYOUth board members and a screenshot of the page showing Carla Hall among the GENYOUth board member list. Within a couple hours of my comment on that post, I got a notice from Facebook telling me I had “violated Facebook’s community standards.” They called my comment “fraudulent spam” and deleted it!
Yes, my reply was deleted, and I was warned that if I continued my violation of Facebook’s community standards, action would be taken against me.
Wow, I thought, that’s out of left field, isn’t it? I simply showed the truth with a link and a picture that the plant-based beverage promoter is, in fact, on the GENYOUth board.
Yes folks, DMI wants you to believe that your future viability as dairy farmers relies on playing nice with the plant-based and lab-grown lookalikes – blending in with them – and losing your identity. After all, they say, just be glad your milk has 2500 metabolites that can be digitized and annotated!
They want you to believe that the gaming industry is “good” for dairy while acknowledging that it’s not so good for kids. They want you to partner in that world of unreality and confusion instead of being an inspiration of clarity and a champion for what’s real.
My question is: Do we want to be a beacon of light and inspire Gen Z? Or do we want to stoop to the level of this dark space to “fit in” or “be cool”.
In that space, are those teens and young adults even listening to our story? Or are we being drowned out by the bells and whistles of gaming as it sucks them in and drags them down. The entire gaming world is full of ambiguity and confusion, but this is what DMI and its futurist say the world is going to be, that it is a VUCA world, and we must accept it.
VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. It’s a sort of catchall phrase for what we all know. Yes, the world is crazy out there!
In that talk, DMI leaders said they hired futurist Bob Johansen to help them look at four models for the future of dairy from a range of possible scenarios. They chose the transformation model, and that is how they are transforming checkoff dollars.
“Accept it,” they say, Mr. and Mrs. Dairy Farmer, you must accept that ambiguous messaging is the name of the game for the future of dairy, one that assigns the attributes you are selling in a mix-and-match environment.
Farmers have been dealing with VUCA forever. We’ve long understood that markets are volatile, the future is uncertain, the industry is complicated, and yes, the world and its direction are certainly ambiguous.
However, must dairy farmers accept and enbrace this ambiguity in the messages they send to consumers about the milk they produce?
Should they be pursuing the digitization of 2500 milk metabolites as the way to pair dairy with certain brands and products to fit personalized diets and ignore the backdrop of confusion about what real milk and dairy are?
The first rule of marketing 101 is that ambiguous messages don’t work. They leave the impression that there’s nothing special about one choice over another.
They call it innovation, but it is really subjugation – the act of bringing farmers and consumers under domination and control.
They are asking dairy farmers to give away our precious wholesome true message about milk – especially whole milk — so that processors can mix and match protein sources as they see fit.
Of course, they tell us this is for sustainability’s sake and for saving the planet by keeping diets within planetary boundaries, but we all know the score: It’s about corporate profits and control of food… and land.
We knew that already, didn’t we? The dairy transformation strategy is to be the protein that processors choose to include by being the low-cost producer.
DMI isn’t interested in promoting whole milk or the nutritional value of whole milk as a superior choice. This is obvious no matter how ardently the outgoing DMI CEO Tom Gallagher repeats the mantra that DMI championed the return to full-fat dairy and whole milk.
He said this again during the World Dairy Expo discussion when New York producer Jay Hoyt stood up to say none of this “bright” transformation future is going to matter if we can’t promote and provide cold whole milk to kids. Gallagher’s response was that no one would be talking about whole milk if DMI had not been the leader on the full-fat dairy research and whole milk message. (What did I miss?)
The transformation strategy of DMI is to be a versatile, low-cost commodity that can be separated to blend and fit and filter its way into dozens of new products, that it has 2500 metabolites that can be digitized and annotated and then selected for personalized diets offered on iphone apps, that it ‘meets Gen Z where they are’ in the immersive learning world of gaming.
This is a game for sure. But who wins? Certainly not dairy farmers or consumers.
The transformation strategy has no place for promotion of 100% real whole milk and dairy, nor a clear message about what milk is, what it does for you. No place to remind consumers about why they love milk because they’ve helped over the past decade parrot USDA’s propaganda so that Gen Z doesn’t even know they love milk because they weren’t given whole milk – until grassroots promotion efforts started turning those tables.
If we all stand by and twiddle our thumbs — letting the global corporations make the decisions, control the narrative, bow to activist triggers, and define ‘where our consumers are’– by the time DMI and friends are done with dairy, it will be unrecognizable, without a clear message about the real milk diligently produced on our dairy farms.
Doing so means walking away from DMI and NFL constraints
By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, September 3, 2021
BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — Rather than dilute its rejuvenated milk performance messaging in NFL athletes’ own milk stories, the national Milk Processor Education Program (MilkPEP) walked away from its quest for a fall promotion partnership with Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) and the National Football League (NFL).
According to leaked emails dated August 27 and 28, the decision was made when NFL feedback required removal of references to fluid milk hydration, recovery and performance due to infringement on the territory of a prime NFL sponsor, PepsiCo.
Rather than dilute the campaign’s message to gain NFL approval, the email indicates MilkPEP will use its own creative content with NFL athletes, without the NFL branding. Separate Farmshine requests for official statements from both MilkPEP and DMI were not immediately answered.
Some history is in order.
MilkPEP is funded by the mandatory 20-cent per hundredweight assessment that is included in the Class I price and is paid by fluid milk processors on all fluid milk that is processed and marketed in consumer type packages in the U.S. DMI, on the other hand, is funded by a portion of the 15-cent checkoff paid on all milk hundredweights sold by all U.S. dairy producers and the 7.5-cent per hundredweight equivalent paid by dairy importers.
MilkPEP, under the leadership of CEO Yin Woon Rani since October 2019, has brought back and revitalized milk education messages with an up-to-date modern focus on the nutritional and performance benefits of milk.
For example, MilkPEP revived ‘got milk?’ in 2020, and even more recently started a related slogan ‘you’re gonna need milk for that.’
At the gonnaneedmilk.com website, Milk is positioned as “fueling athletes for centuries” and as “the original sports drink” with tabs for milk facts, why milk, and milk vs. other beverages. In fact, some state and regional checkoff programs, including the southern Dairy Alliance, are using some of MilkPEP’s fluid milk promotion pieces. MilkPEP also partners with DMI on some projects related to fluid milk promotion.
DMI leaders often point out that their role is research and instead of generic advertising, they focus on innovation via proprietary strategic partnerships that include DMI’s 5-year-old Fluid Milk Revitalization Initiative; while MilkPEP focuses on consumer-facing fluid milk education and promotion. DMI often claims to “further the reach” of MilkPEP promotions through partnering and social media.
A central theme in MilkPEP’s ‘gonna need milk’ campaign is how milk’s unique nutritional attributes fuel extraordinary accomplishments. Through science-based information and the stories of Team Milk athletes, this campaign comes right out to proclaim “Milk: The Original Sports Drink.” So far this year, the milk stories of Team USA Olympians have been featured.
“I’m sorry we couldn’t get it done with the NFL, but we’ll find a way to get it done,” said Everett Williams, a MilkPEP board member at-large and Madison, Georgia dairy producer when called for his thoughts on the matter. “I have been impressed with what MilkPEP is doing, and it looks like we’ll still be working with the athletes, just not with the NFL branding.
“But we will still get the message out that ‘you’re gonna need milk for that,’” he said.
The fall promotion work had reportedly been underway for months creating content. Given DMI’s partnership with MilkPEP and with the NFL in schools via the GENYOUth and Fuel Up to Play 60 since 2009, the thought was these MilkPEP promotions could associate the athletes’ stories with the NFL and FUTP60.
However, in the email leaked to many, including to Farmshine, over the weekend, MilkPEP apparently thanked DMI’s teams for working with them on this, but said the organization would follow a different pathway for the fall promotions already created. The email noted that MilkPEP worked with DMI “in an attempt to make compelling content for Gen Z to help us achieve our objective of positioning milk as a valuable performance drink that helps athletes do extraordinary things.”
This created conflict with the NFL.
According to the email, the feedback that was sent back was “very stringent prohibiting this type of content.”
This feedback would have included editing every player’s authentic testimonials and removing all messaging from the gonnaneedmilk.com website that related to hydration, performance, recovery and sports drinks.
MilkPEP indicated in the email that it was unable to accommodate this level of feedback because the information is fact- and science-based.
In the email, MilkPEP’s continued support was emphasized for GENYOUth, the non-profit formed originally by DMI and the NFL. MilkPEP will pay for the distribution of nearly 4000 flag football kits to schools in October, which will feature the Team Milk NFL and nutritional posters along with the ‘got milk?’ branded pinnies, according to the email.
Outside of the schools, MilkPEP will essentially move forward on their own with their own content and will only use this content featuring attire without NFL or team brands and without any FUTP60 branding and no connection to the NFL.
“I am disappointed that we weren’t able to find a special place for milk in NFL promotion,” said Rob Barley, a MilkPEP board member at-large and dairy producer from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania when asked for his observations.
Barley noted that MilkPEP staff worked very hard on this promotion, and he indicated DMI worked with them, but in the end, the promotion was denied by the NFL as infringing on the areas of other sponsors.
He noted that this decision does not represent a break in the partnership between MilkPEP and DMI on fluid milk promotion, and it does not affect their school participation. Instead, it means MilkPEP is choosing to continue its fall promotion plan, using the unedited milk stories of football players. They just won’t have the approval of the NFL and therefore will not be able to associate with the NFL brand or FUTP60 logo.
“We lack the financial resources of other NFL partners,” Barley said. “It’s that simple.”
NFL sponsorship deals are huge. According to an NS Business report last year, the NFL brought in a combined $1 billion through sponsorship deals from 30 brands during the 2019-20 season. At $100 million, PepsiCo was the fourth largest, allowing it to use the NFL logo and branding on its advertising campaigns for soft drinks as well as its other beverage and snack brands including Aquafina (water), Frito-Lay, Gatorade, Tropicana and Quaker Oats.
By comparison, the entire annual budget of MilkPEP is less than that, estimated at $85 million.
Also in comparison, according to IRS 990 forms, DMI pays the NFL approximately $7 to $8 million annually and provides the staffing and infrastructure for the partnership with the NFL in GENYOUth, where state and regional checkoff organizations, collectively, outspend all other individual donors, including the purchase of breakfast carts and equipment and educational materials for schools.
Over the past decade, GENYOUth’s in-school materials have evolved well beyond the original realm of nutrition and exercise as more multinational corporate donors from the technology, financial and consumer packaged goods sectors have boarded the school bus.
In 2020 and 2021, GENYOUth has focused its out-of-school messaging on raising funds for delivering school meals amid pandemic disruptions.
Through GENYOUth and FUTP60, DMI targeted Generation Z over the past 12 to 13 years. In a press conference in May, Anne Warden, DMI’s executive vice president of Strategic Integration, said dairy checkoff “has been focusing on the youth audience ever since making its commitment to USDA on school nutrition (in 2008-09).” She stated that Gen Z is “not interested in facts like vitamins and minerals. They want to know how foods and beverages will make them feel.”
The FUTP60 partnership between the NFL and DMI began in 2009. By 2010, DMI had created the 501c3 non-profit Youth Improved Incorporated, operating as GENYOUth. Its formation includes USDA as an original partner. USDA blog posts and Flickr photos depicted the ceremony where the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was publicly signed by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, GENYOUth CEO Alexis Glick, and National Dairy Council President Jean Regalie during the 2011 Superbowl.
Also in 2011, PepsiCo renewed its longtime partnership with the NFL in a 10-year deal that ESPN reported to be over $90 million per year with additional spending in marketing and promotion of its ties to the NFL.
In 2018, the GENYOUth Vanguard hero award was presented to PepsiCo during the New York City GENYOUth Gala, at a time when dairy farmer heroes were encountering one of their most difficult milk price margin years and whose checkoff had been contributing far more millions to the GENYOUth effort over the previous 10 years than the one-year, one-million PepsiCo had pitched in for Spanish translations and 100 breakfast carts. (PepsiCo has a school foodservice company and website touting USDA-compliant products.)
PepsiCo’s North American CEO accepted the award that evening and indicated the company had “admired the Play 60 program for years.” He then used the dairy-farmer-founded GENYOUth venue to tout Pepsi’s focus on healthy new beverages, including the Quaker brand oat ‘milk’ he announced had arrived in stores (a brand that was subsequently discontinued).
Looking ahead, PepsiCo announced in Feb. 2021, its joint venture with Beyond Meat called The PLANeT Partnership to make and sell plant-based alternative drinks and snacks. In July 2021, Beyond Meat filed to trademark “Beyond Milk.”
(Author’s note: NFL is big business, and its sponsorship deals understandably require rules for the road in which competing sponsors — especially those such as dairy producers with their smaller ‘altruistic’ investments as ‘partners’ in a youth program — are apparently expected to stay in their lane (getting meals to food insecure kids at school; not promoting milk’s nutritional profile in performance, hydration and sports recovery). On the other hand, pay attention… if / when the PepsiCo / Beyond PLANeT Partnership brings forth a Beyond Milk beverage to go with the trademark application they just filed, dairy farmers will certainly expect the NFL to remember who the MILK lane belongs to.)
DMI gets more aggressive in launch of ‘blending’ vision
By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, August 27, 2021
CHICAGO, Ill. – The future of dairy is “blending”, according to recent messaging and product innovation launches supported with dairy checkoff dollars.
In 2019, the Live Real Farms, “purely perfect blends” – Dairy Plus Almond and Dairy Plus Oat beverages – were launched in test markets in Minnesota. Earlier this year, the roll-out arrived in Northeast markets, including Pennsylvania. For example, in Lancaster County, Pa., certain Giant stores are handling the drink.
According to USDA FMMO definitions for Class I fluid milk, the either/or protein or total solids percentage of this “blend” does not meet the Class I standard, and an official from the Pa. Milk Marketing Board also confirmed in a phone interview that the 50/50 blended products are not regulated as Class I under the PMMB.
This is another aspect of the move toward blending in fluid milk products. Some of these new checkoff-funded fluid milk “revitalization” products classify the milk used in them at manufacturing class prices.
But that’s another story. This article focuses on how DMI is positioning future dairy messaging and supply-chain innovation through blending.
First, many farmers will recall the words of Paul Ziemnisky, executive vice president of DMI’s Global Innovation Partnerships when he spoke in a Center for Dairy Excellence call last fall and again in a webinar during the February 2021 Pennsylvania Dairy Summit.
In those settings, Ziemnisky gave a look at the future of dairy beverages, going so far as to say new processing facilities will “need to be built as beverage plants able to handle all kinds of ingredients for the blended products of the future.”
“We will see the beverage space set up differently and our manufacturing plants will need to be set up as dual plants to make milk-based beverages because that is where the consumer is going, and it is our job to keep them where dairy is front and center,” Ziemnisky explained, noting that these blends “are shelved with milk. We’re adding plants to dairy, making lactose-free dairy to address gut health. Our partners have led, and we have driven growth by over 1 billion pounds.”
But where is the sales data on the blends? The dairy industry identity shift has been in the making for the past 12 to 13 years, and ramping up in the past five, with the opening, expanding and planned construction of huge dairy ingredient facilities, processing cheese and “nutritionals”.
Ultrafiltration and low-fat or fat-free milk figure prominently in these blends.
‘Best of all milks?’
So, how is DFA / DMI marketing the checkoff-partnered fluid milk innovation that is Live Real Farms “purely perfect blends”? The evolving liverealfarms.com website, as well as social media platforms, tell the story.
These “blends” of milk plus plant-based beverages, these 50/50 blends, are touted as “the best of all milks,” and “the milk for modern tastes.”
Interestingly, the Live Real Farms “about us” page demonstrates that its marketers may be even more confused about whose farm products they are promoting because the photo is clearly that of a farmer standing in a field with BEEF cows – Hereford and Charolais. There’s not a dairy breed in the bunch on the full screen photo at DFA’s Live Real Farms “about us” page.
Across the beef cow and farmer photo are the words “Keeping it real.” (We have to wonder how the photo of beef cows and a blended product keep it real, but that’s a question for another day.)
Moving down through the verbiage, beneath the photo are the words: “Live Real Farms is owned by a co-op of real farmers (DFA) with one really tasty goal: to create deliciously modern dairy products bursting with goodness. Nothing fancy. Nothing artificial. Nothing we wouldn’t put on our own tables.”
Underneath this verbiage, we finally do see a Holstein, and below that picture are these words: “Love Milk Like Never Before: Something so delicious happens when you blend real milk with real almond or oat drink. We love the luscious texture. We love the subtle sweetness and nutty flavors. We love the health benefits too. And so will you.”
Various consumer spots are included touting this blended drink as healthier because you can “sneak more plants into your diet,” or because the blending with oat drink make it better in coffee, and on and on.
The instagram account even urged putting 50/50 Dairy + Almond blend out for Santa last Christmas Eve. (Sorry, but Santa prefers 100% real milk).
A milk identity crisis?
The chocolate dairy plus almond product was recently reviewed by Afoolzerrand.com – the saga of a man traveling the world tasting and reviewing brands of chocolate milk – over 1500 of them to-date.
Even he was confused about the ‘blend’, stating in his video review that he was “curious about who this (blended) product is for…
“Is there crossover between people who buy almond milk and people who buy regular milk? Maybe? Is it some sort of a compromise? I don’t know. I’m sure they did research to back up putting out the product, but I find it strange who the target market is,” he said.
“It is amusing that at the website for Live Real Farms, about us, it talks about ‘keeping it simple’ and ‘we believe in eating food the way nature intended. It’s funny for me to think about nature intending on a 50/50 almond milk / cow milk blend, let alone a chocolate flavored one. To consider that to be the way nature intended has some comedy value for me,” the chocolate milk connoisseur said in his video review of the product.
He noted that, “It sort of tastes like you would expect sun block to taste,” observing a “dusty” flavor that’s “more sweet than chocolatey”.
He talked about the other 50/50 blends in the line-up, saying “I’m baffled a bit. I’ve certainly tried worse things, it’s less creamy, which you would expect with half low-fat milk, half almond milk… texture-wise it doesn’t do any favors.”
Rating it a 3 out of 10 (Poor), Afoolzerrand went on to note that it offers a lactose-free claim, but he was quick to point out (and show pictures of) the many other lactose free chocolate milks on the market that are made with 100% real milk, that he said are really good.
Whose healthy halo?
So, what does DMI – the purveyor of the blending vision for dairy farmer checkoff dollars – say?
A recently posted “Undeniably Dairy” video at the USdairy.com website sought to explain the blending direction of dairy “to answer questions raised by recent headlines.”
In the video moderated by Scott Wallin, DMI’s communications director, Kristiana Alexander, director of DMI’s Knowledge and Insights, discusses how “consumer desires are influencing the beverage category and how dairy innovation can encourage more fluid milk use. One of the newest innovations are blended products, which combine the goodness of dairy with other ingredients,” she said.
Alexander is asked to give a definition for ‘blended dairy’ in the DMI video entitled ‘Why Fluid Milk Innovation is Important.’
“We are talking about products that are combining dairy with other ingredients or foods that is then made into a single product,” she said.
Wallin notes that Alexander’s team is “constantly monitoring consumer trends” and asks what they are finding when it comes to blended dairy. “What is it that they are looking for?” he asked.
“Today, people are focused on living a ‘holistic lifestyle,” said Alexander explaining what she called DMI’s “overarching framework.”
The holistic lifestyle is “a lifestyle that emphasizes the connection of the mind, body and planet. It encompasses the well-being of the individual, the family, and everything around them. People want to know, is this good for my body? Will I enjoy it? Will I feel good about buying it?,” Alexander says.
She talked about how blended products are showing up in the marketplace, saying: “It’s all about nutrition and flavor experience. It’s about bringing the foods and ingredients that people want more of … and bringing them into dairy. This can include fruits and vegetables for vitamins and antioxidants, functional foods that boost immunity, healthy grains – think like oats and quinoa, nuts, and ‘super powders’ like matcha and turmeric that have a perceived ‘health halo’ around them. And beyond nutrition, it’s flavor experience. Consumers are looking to step out of their comfort zones,” said Alexander.
(Author’s note: Who is promoting milk’s natural healthy halo? The vitamins, minerals, high quality protein, hydrating water, electrolytes, healthy matrix of fats, important fatty acids, essential nutrients of concern in today’s diets, and more? Does dairy suddenly need other ingredients to improve its health halo, according to DMI consumer research? Because consumers do not know much about the health and nutrition of real milk and dairy, blending is the answer?)
Everyone’s doing it?
Alexander went on to say this “blending” trend is not just happening in dairy.
“We see it in meat and poultry,” she said, flashing brands of blended products always using the word “plus” on the screen (like the Live Real Farms does with dairy) and touting chicken-plus-grains blends and beef blended with pea-protein as “great new products” that meet consumer desires.
“We are tapping into consumers’ desires for enhanced nutrition and flavor exploration,” Alexander explained.
“The big question for farmers is, ‘what does it mean for the dairy industry?’” asked Wallin.
Alexander responded to say: “Bringing it home, what it means for dairy and looking at blended dairy… first, we know people are always looking to consume more vegetables, and we are seeing this take place in meat and poultry, and now in dairy.
“It’s not about eliminating foods,” said DMI’s Alexander. “It’s having different options available, and these hybrid foods that provide dairy and vegetables, they do that. There’s ice cream, cheese crackers, dairy beverages that all let consumers get more vegetables in their diets. And then there’s dairy blends that incorporate grains and nuts, meeting different consumer needs.”
She noted that Live Real Farms milk plus almond and oat, in particular, “provide that blended enhanced nutrition.”
(Author’s note: Enhanced nutrition? Over real dairy milk? Really?)
She also noted the “indulgent” blends, such as Shamrock’s milk swirled with almond drink and chocolate as being a new “comfort food” for people looking to indulge and “be comforted” after a stressful year.
Alexander also noted the blended cheeses with lentils and chickpeas providing new textures and … you guessed it… “enhanced nutrition.”
This ‘blending’ discussion has not even publicly touched upon the bioengineered yeast-excrement makers already talking with the largest global makers of ice cream, yogurt and cheese to blend their dairy protein analogs at a starter rate of 5%.
As Alexander noted in the DMI video, it’s happening in meat and poultry also.
Bottom line, dairy farmer checkoff dollars are using the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) supply chain leverage model to move consumers and producers in a direction that certainly appears to be one that transforms food by diluting animal-sourced foods like real milk and dairy.
Business will do what business will do, but should dairy farmers be paying to promote, launch, create, and foster the blending and dilution of their milk and dairy products, including the reclassification of the milk in these beverages at manufacturing class prices? Are they funding their own demise? Should they be funding the education and promotion of dairy’s own superior healthy halo so that consumers know what 100% real dairy provides and can make informed decisions as the lines get blurred?