‘Milk Baleboards’ are a ‘thing’, with a website!

Producers unite to send clear message to policymakers and consumers, website takes it to the next level.

Nelson Troutman (above) is a dairy farmer. He has made 20 Milk Baleboards and offers these DIY Tips with illustrations at the end of this story.

By Sherry Bunting, from Farmshine, Friday, Feb. 22, 2019

RICHLAND, Pa. — Nelson Troutman has been making the ‘Milk Baleboards’ since January. The Berks/Lebanon County dairy farmer came up with the idea after the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board listening session in December.

“It’s very important that the bales all have the same message: ‘Drink Local Whole MILK — 97% FAT-FREE.’ Don’t try to get funny with it. You could take the ‘local’ off and just focus on the ‘whole milk,’ but mainly to have impact, we want the bales to have the same message,” he said while painting bales in his shop during my visit last Saturday morning to the farm where he and his wife Mary live and which is now rented to a young couple for their dairy herd.

He still farms the land he has lived on his entire life, and he makes the feed for that herd and his son’s herd nearby. (In fact his daughter in law Renee wrote about whole milk recently, with a historical twist!)

Nelson has made 20 Milk Baleboards so far (check out his DIY tips at the end of this story). And he has seen new ones pop up from others following suit.

He has had 10 phone calls from fellow farmers as far away as New York, and has talked to so many more at meetings — out and about. He tells them: “Put a bale out… unless you are satisfied with your milk price.”

Did he think it would take off like it has? “No I didn’t,” he says. But he’s glad to see others joining in and hopes to see it catch on even more.

Retired agribusinessman Bernie Morrissey of Robesonia has been doing all he can to get other agribusinesses to put them out. In addition to Morrissey Insurance having one on their property along Rte 272 north of Ephrata, the Milk Baleboards are popping up along other main routes like 23, 322, and 422, to name a few.

“Our advertising checkoff dollars just didn’t seem to be doing a very good job these past 10 years. They have been promoting fat free and low-fat 1% milk and the fat free yogurt — not much whole milk,” Nelson relates.

“After the listening session with the PMMB, some of us were talking. We thought it was time to do something different, something like letting consumers know whole milk is 97% fat free,” he said further. “We didn’t come up with a plan that day. We were thinking about a billboard, but that was far too expensive. We thought about portable signs.”

Then over the weekend after that December meeting, he looked around. “I thought to myself that I already have the perfect thing: A wrapped hay bale! So, I painted one. I set it in the pasture at our crossroad. We farmers have silos, wagons, barns and sheds we can paint signs on.”

Lots of feedback has come in, and it seemed no one knew whole milk was 97% fat free. Some said “why are we drinking 2% milk, when whole milk tastes so much better?”

Nelson observes that young and older people said they never thought about how much fat or nutrition is in milk. “It seems so sad how people are misled by our checkoff dollars, our doctors and medical people — and our federal dietary guidelines committee.”

He admits that people are easily confused. To be sure, the bales are attracting attention, leading to questions.

While it started out as a way to send a clear and unified message to consumers and especially policymakers, Nelson said the information is so surprising to people that it offers educational opportunities.

That’s why R&J Dairy Consulting invited Nelson and Bernie to a meeting of dairy farmers last Friday to see what could be done to use this teachable moment.

The group decided to purchase a website domain — 97MILK.com, and direct people there to learn more: What is whole milk? How does it compare? What is Real Milk, Local Milk?

The website can help unite these efforts, and bring additional excitement to the project. For example, at the meeting organized by R&J Consulting, their marketing manager Jackie Behr said when she asked peers what questions they have about milk, she ended up with a whole list.

“Let’s use this opportunity to educate consumers and help them make a good choice,” she said. The group decided to start out with key simple answers to frequent questions. Many businesses and people are pulling together in various ways that it is impossible to name them all here. That will come in a future Milk Baleboard update.

Jackie at R&J, with some help from others, got the website 97milk.com up and running within seven days. This includes a facebook page @97Milk, so check it all out!

Want to make a Milk Baleboard? Here are Nelson’s DIY tips:


1) Keep the message the same: Drink Local Whole MILK — 97% FAT FREE (or now that there is a website, omit ‘Drink’ on a Round Bale and put the website 97MILK.com top or bottom.)

2) Get the right paint! Rustoleum Ultra Cover 2X paint and primer.

3) Use the small foam brushes and buy extra. This paint doesn’t wash out, so they can’t be re-used. Foam brushes can be turned for thick or thin letters.

4) Wear gloves, this paint will be with you a while if you don’t.

5) Before painting, sketch out a guide with a pen.

6) 97% is the largest and in making the percent-sign, put the circles parallel to each other and the slanted line in between to keep it straight.

7) Find the middle and that’s where the “I” in Milk goes, then build on that.

8) Letters are placed every 2.5 inches for “Local Whole,” and adjust others accordingly.

9) Spray paint onto foam brush, then apply to bale in strokes from the bottom to the top of each letter.

10) Alternate between colors (Blue/Red or Black/Red).

11) Make the letters broader and thicker for the word MILK, in all capital letters.

12) Follow your guide and use paint to even things out as you go.

13) Paint will dry faster and better, with fewer runs (in winter) if painting in sunshine or with a heater running in the shop.

14) Sit them on a pallet for better visibility on property you have along roads and set back from intersections.

Even in worst of times, milk stayed true

Let’s work to put some pressure on our elected representatives to stop this immoral travesty of sub-par nutrition to our children. — Renee Troutman

This letter, which ran on the cover of Farmshine, February 15, 2019, is republished here with permission.

By Renee Troutman, Myerstown, Pennsylvania

Recently in my children’s history lessons about World War I we were learning specifically about war efforts on the home front to ration and save food so there would be enough for our soldiers and European countries ravaged by war. Americans were asked to save on wheat, meat, fats, and sugar. They selflessly sacrificed things like beef, pork, and candy. They ate more vegetables and used fruit preserves to sweeten their desserts. Not a crumb of bread was wasted.

In each history lesson we also read some form of original history, whether it be a speech, newspaper article, songs, or letters. This time we read excerpts from a popular 1918 publication called Foods That Will Win the War and How to Cook Them that gave recipes and tips to help with the rationing efforts. There was a section about using milk and I thought it was very interesting. Here’s what it says:

“To Save Milk: Use it all. Buy whole milk and let the cream rise. Use this cream, and you secure your milk without cost. Economize on milk and cream except for children. The children must have milk whole. Serve buttermilk. Serve cottage cheese regularly in varying forms. It is especially nutritious. Use cheese generally.”

Is anyone else as intrigued as I am that even during times when rationing food was a necessity, the thought of giving remnants of milk to children wasn’t even a consideration? Conventional wisdom and common sense knew that children going through the most critical growth periods of their lives needed whole milk for proper development. In no way was anyone going to suggest that children be deprived of nutritious, dietary fat. Many vitamins in milk are fat soluble and calcium absorption is aided with the fat so giving children anything less made that nutrition null and void. Nobody was going to do that to children and nobody did.

But yet, 100 years later, while we’re supposedly drowning in surplus milk, here we are giving our children nutritional remnants of milk because the government tells us to. Whole milk has somehow been villainized even though milk has been heralded as a sacred nutritional staple for millennia. Our national security is now being compromised as we lose farms daily to financial ruin as milk drinkers are dismayed at the blah of skim milk. And, to add insult to injury, farmers are shooting themselves in their own foot as promotion money forcibly taxed off of their meager milk checks is used to push this erroneous and devastating no-fat/low-fat message.

Our children deserve so much better. We produce an abundance of wholesome, nutritious, and delicious milk in this country. I’d really like to know why we are mandated by the government to only give ourselves measly remnants. The tide needs to turn, and fortunately, I think it is.

Let’s work to put some pressure on our elected representatives to stop this immoral travesty of sub-par nutrition to our children. Call your U.S. Congressman to make HR 832 Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act of 2019 to happen and fast. Do whatever you can yourself to educate the public about the truth and goodness of whole milk and let’s make the consumers we provide for confident and excited about using our whole product again and not just the measly remnants of it. 

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Are dairy farmers funding their demise? USDA ‘straight-jackets’ promotion; GENYOUth alliances suspicious

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is Part 2 of an investigative report on GENYOUth, which began with USDA contacting National Dairy Council in Sept. 2009, National Dairy Council contacting National Football League in 2009/10 and an official signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between NDC and NFL with USDA in February 2011. 

By Sherry Bunting, from Farmshine, Friday, January 18, 2019

They call it “the dairy farmers’ youth wellness program,” but GENYOUth is under the thumb of USDA with some questionable corporate alliances and trends underway.

This multi-part series looks at GENYOUth’s founding, its alliances, its mixed-messages, intended and unintended consequences, its partners and the new alternative products they are and will be introducing into the nutritional vacuum paved by low-fat and fat-free promotion, the winners and losers, and the impact on our dairy farms, and our children.

Let’s pick up where we left off from last week’s Part One.

Helping America’s youth lead better and healthier lives is a worthy pursuit, and there is no intention here to blame good-hearted people trying to do good within the straight-jacket of USDA control. What is being questioned is the direction. What is being exposed is the roots of the oak tree and its impact on our dairy farms and our children.

The problem with the GENYOUth model is that it is primarily funded by mandatory dairy check-off dollars and the government control of it.

The anti-animal and environmental NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) are driving decisions by Big Food, Big Ag, Big Government (and the World Health Organization). And there are new billionaire corporate “sustainability” alliances poised to profit on this main course, while dairy farmer GENYOUth “founders” hope for crumbs.

GENYOUth began in 2010 as a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between National Dairy Council and National Football League with the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Education, and Health and Human Services. This six-way MOU was officially signed on Feb. 4, 2011 during the Superbowl that year (below).

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This 2011 USDA photo found on a USDA flickr stream shows lots of cameras, but few, if any, dairy farming publications were notified. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed Fri., Feb. 4, 2011 during Superbowl week in Dallas Texas. It had been under development since Sept. 2009. The MOU outlined the joint commitment of the NFL, USDA, National Dairy Council, GENYOUth Foundation, to end childhood obesity. Signing from left were NDC President Jean Regalie, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, GENYOUth CEO Alexis Glick.

According to Guidestar, the non-profit is listed under the name Youth Improved Incorporated (aka GENYOUth) with the tagline ‘exercise your influence.’ It refers to itself as an NGO. (NGO is defined as “a nonprofit organization that operates independently of any government, typically one whose purpose is to address a social or political issue.”)

GENYOUth was launched to increase physical activity among schoolchildren as well as to encourage healthy eating with emphasis on school breakfast and then mobile breakfast carts. The 2014 (most recent) progress report noted that 73,000 schools and 38 million children had been reached by Fuel Up to Play 60 (FUTP60), affecting the health and wellness of an estimated 14 million students’.

The only reference to dairy in the FUTP60 message pounded home about fruits, vegetables and whole grains is the inclusion of low-fat and fat-free dairy.

A year ago at a bank meeting in front of 500 farmers, then U.S. House Ag Committee vice chair G.T. Thompson of Pennsylvania said he wanted his healthy school milk bill to bring the standard up to 2% or whole milk, but, he said “producers and processors came to me and told me to go slow, to keep it at 1% and take baby-steps.”

Who were the “producers” and “processors” coming to him with that request? National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and the check-off MOU under the thumb of USDA.

Those same entities then turn around and tell grassroots farmers that they are forced to work within the confines of what USDA will allow. And so, the circular argument continues. Round and round we go.

Which brings us back to the Nov. 27, 2018 GENYOUth Gala in New York City and the Vanguard Award to PepsiCo.

PepsiCo has been a GENYOUth partner for seven years. In 2018, PepsiCo not only paid its “hero” sponsorship of $150,000 for the event, they gave an additional $1 million for the purchase of 45 additional mobile breakfast carts and the Espanol version of FUTP60.

According to the only piece of the 2011 MOU that can be found, the NFL, NDC, and GENYOUth have agreed not to use FUTP60 “as a vehicle to sell or promote products or services.” But it is clear that the NFL and other corporate partners, like Pepsi, have brand recognition.

How is dairy’s brand recognized? Hats are tipped at the Gala to “America’s dairy farmers” as the founders who launched the platform. But they are hog-tied by generic promotion and exclusion of the full nutritional value of their product — whole milk, real butter and real cheese — within the government straight-jacket.

GENYOUth was created while Tom Vilsack was Secretary of Agriculture (below). According to cross-posted blog entries between DMI and USDA near the end of 2009: “The USDA discussed in September (2009) a plan to develop the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between USDA, the NFL and DMI to allow USDA programs and Fuel Up to Play 60 to collaborate and collectively tackle the critical issue of children’s health.”

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Former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who is currently CEO of the check-off funded U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), is photographed in 2011 with young people during Superbowl week in Dallas, Texas, after the signing of the 2011 GENYOUth MOU — 18 months after USDA first discussed the plan for the MOU with the National Dairy Council and a year after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says Tom Gallagher of DMI approached him. 2011 USDA photo

When former President Bill Clinton was invited to speak about Vilsack at the 2017 Gala where Vilsack was presented with the 2017 Vanguard Award, Clinton, a vegan, talked about every entity in the “diverse partnership” that he was celebrating — except for America’s dairy farmers.

He talked about how children receive 40 to 60% of their calories from drinks in school. He talked about turning the obesity epidemic around by everyone taking responsibility in that area. He talked about how Vilsack’s leadership with Michelle Obama, made beverages and snacks abide by the fat-free rules, including school vending machines. He talked about how Vilsack was instrumental “under the radar… working for a healthier generation of kids before coming to USDA and before the launch of GENYOUth.”

Meanwhile, the more the government’s direction squeezes healthy fat from the diet, the more the obesity figures in children continue to grow.

This year, at the 2018 Gala, GENYOUth CEO Alexis Glick thanked each partner. “We give a heartfelt thank you to our founding partners America’s dairy farmers and the National Football League and the players association,” said Glick in a YouTube video of the November Gala. She had previously thanked longtime partners Land O’Lakes and Domino’s while also acknowledging Mike and Sue McCloskey (fairlife) as well as Leprino and Schreiber.

“I say to our farmers: You had a dream. And we have been blessed to be part of that dream. You gave us life. You believed in us. And can you believe we are standing here today on the cusp of the 10-year anniversary of FUTP60?” she said.

“And we extend an extra special thank you to PepsiCo,” Glick continued. “The generosity of your vision, your resources, your team, time and talent have changed our organization.”

In accepting the Vanguard Award on behalf of PepsiCo, CEO Albert Carey said: “We’ve had a wonderful partnership with the NFL over the years… doing things together like the Pepsi half-time show and Gatorade sidelines. We have had ads and retail programs for both of our brands,” he said.

“But the one NFL program our team noticed probably 10 years ago, or maybe 9 years ago, is one we have admired and wanted to be part of and that was Play 60,” said Carey, careful not to include the Fuel Up (dairy) part of the Play 60 tagline.

Carey said “you guys are doing a fantastic job inspiring kids… using football role models.”

He went on to say that PepsiCo wanted to be part of the program because of the importance of kids being active.

“But we also believe at PepsiCo that we need to provide healthy products for our consumers,” said Carey. “Some of you may be familiar with our mission ‘performance with purpose.’”

He described this as “getting great business performance while also serving others… on the part of the environment… or many other ways, but this one particular way is about providing healthier foods for our consumers.”

Carey said he thought PepsiCo had done a pretty good job at this over the past several years, “but we haven’t talked about it much. You see some obvious things like Pepsi zero sugar, Gatorade Zero,” he said. “But you don’t hear much about Bubbly Sparkling Water, Life Water, Quaker oat milk, and we just bought a company called Bare Snacks and our Kevita Kombucha products (probiotic drinks).”

He mentioned that the Quaker oat beverage, which he personally called “oat milk” but in reality this product is labeled “oat beverage for cereal, smoothies, coffee and more”. It is being launched this month and will be in stores by March.

The PepsiCo website mentions these products as part of the company’s commitment to further the World Health Organization goals of alternative products to reduce saturated fat consumption and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, thereby improving global environmental and nutritional sustainability.

Carey said the “oat milk” and bare snacks and probiotic drinks are part of PepsiCo goal of “converting its portfolio to healthier foods for the future.”

In fact, PepsiCo is also in development of so-called non-dairy ‘cheese’ and ‘yogurt’ snacks through its “Nutrition Greenhouse Accelerator program, including the purchase of Health Warrior, which PepsiCo said in an October 2018 Food and Beverage article “is a nutrition-forward trailblazer that can provide great insight into high value categories and consumers while benefiting from our expertise and resources to bring plant-based nutrition to more people.”

Meanwhile, the GENYOUth program bestowed the 2018 GENYOUth Vanguard Award on PepsiCo for its seven years of partnership and its commitment to give an additional $1 million, which PepsiCo’s Carey said would fund Play 60 in Espanol as well as 45 new mobile school breakfast carts, bringing PepsiCo’s cart total to 100.

It will be interesting to see what may appear on these carts in the future, given the new oat beverage, plant-based probiotic drinks, and other “Nutrition Greenhouse” products emerging in the PepsiCo portfolio.

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Who is empowering whom? PART ONE: Dairy check-off’s GENYOUth thin on milk.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: They call it “the dairy farmers’ youth wellness program” because it has been depicted as the brainchild of the National Dairy Council… But GENYOUth — including its flagship Fuel Up to Play 60 (FUTP60) — is thin on milk and threatens to steal even more demand as future milk drinkers are steered away from nutritious whole milk products. Meanwhile, the anti-animal and environmental NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) have been infiltrating new billionaire “sustainability” alliances poised to profit on the main course, while dairy farmers bow-down in hopes of crumbs. This is Part One of an investigative multi-part series.

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Depicted above is the illustration used to promote and glorify the 2018 GENYOUth Gala that was held at the Ziegfeld Ballroom in New York City on Nov. 27. The “superheroes” sponsors are listed further down on the 2018 GENYOUth Gala website. PepsiCo was the “hero” sponsor at $150,000. Champion sponsors of $100,000 each were UnitedHealthcare, Corteva Agriscience, Inmar and fairlife. So-called “defender” sponsors included Domino’s, Ecolab, Jamba Juice, Land O’Lakes, NFLPA, SAP, Leprino Foods, Schreiber, Ameritrade, RBC Capital Markets and Omnicom Group, each of which gave $50,000.

By Sherry Bunting, from Farmshine, Friday, January 11, 2019

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — How serious is the National Dairy Board about improving fluid milk sales? We see some renewed emphasis on this lately, but our most important sales — those to children in school — threaten to steal even more demand from the future as we lose future milk drinkers with the forced service of only fat-free and 1% low-fat milk in the school lunch and breakfast programs.

Recent studies show that children and teenagers in the poorest demographic of the U.S. population are leading the epidemic of obesity and diabetes. One study by University of Michigan Health System, for example, revealed that for every 1% increase in low-income status among school districts, there as a 1.17% increase in rates of overweight/obese students. Researchers used data collected from mandated screenings that began in Massachusetts schools in 2011, and the percentage of overweight/obese students was compared with the percentage of students in each district eligible for free and reduced school lunch, transitional aid or food stamps (SNAP).

The meals these students receive at school are their best two options for nutrition and satiety all day. There are few restrictions for cheap, high-carb, high-fructose-corn-syrup foods and beverages that can be purchased with SNAP cards, so what will they find at the end of the day for their hunger at home? Soda pop and Dollar Store snacks.

What role is the National Dairy Council and its GENYOUth program playing?

The GENYOUth collaboration is aimed at making “a lasting difference in the lives of children.” That sounds great, but what have been both the intended and unintended lasting consequences?

Certainly, there is a long list of dairy research projects funded by the NDC. That’s a good thing.

But where the rubber meets the road, GENYOUth and its flagship program Fuel Up to Play 60 (FUTP60) are aimed at promoting a “healthy lifestyle” that focuses on 60 minutes of physical activity daily and consumption of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein “including low-fat and fat-free dairy.”

For nearly 10 years, the dairy checkoff has parroted the Dietary Guidelines on dairy service to children (and adults) when it comes to institutional feeding — the largest category of the food economy and the place where seeds are planted for lifelong choices based on nutrition education and flavor.

Let’s look at how GENYOUth was launched in 2010.

At the Nov. 27, 2018 gala in New York City, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stated that GENYOUth was the concept of Dairy Management Inc (DMI) CEO Tom Gallagher. Gallagher today serves as chairman of the GENYOUth board.

In a YouTube video of Goodell’s remarks — before handing the coveted 2018 Vanguard Award to PepsiCo CEO Albert Carey — Goodell stated that Gallagher came to him with the idea for GENYOUth 10 years ago, which was then “founded” in 2010 as a partnership between the National Dairy Council (NDC) and the National Football League (NFL).

In fact, in its 2014 Progress Report, GENYOUth’s beginning is described as making “cultural shifts” in school nutrition and exercise, stating further that, “Through signing a six-way Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the National Dairy Council, the National Football League, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Education, and Health and Human Services, we have created a productive synergy that has made the sky the limit for GENYOUth.”

According to a report at its website, genyouthnow.org, the foundation seeks to “convene leaders in a movement to empower America’s youth to create a healthier future.”

The 2018 GENYOUth Gala in New York City was billed as “honoring America’s everyday superheroes” and the Vanguard Award, as mentioned, went to PepsiCo.

But let’s go back to the second gala on Dec. 7, 2017 aboard the Intrepid in New York City. Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack — who now serves as CEO of dairy checkoff-funded U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) — was presented with the Vanguard Award that year.

The GENYOUth website cited “Vilsack’s accomplishments for dairy farmers” under President Obama — for having “legislated to improve the health of America’s kids.”

More specifically, the Vilsack accolades stated that he partnered with First Lady Michelle Obama on her “Let’s Move!” initiative — “alongside GENYOUth to improve the health of America’s children.”

These words show the partnership the NDC / DMI has had with the Obama / Vilsack administration on shared goals of promoting exercise and low-fat / high carb diets for children and youth.

According to the former GENYOUth foundation website before it was revamped to genyouthnow.org, the Vanguard Award presentation to Vilsack was described in January 2018 as follows:

“Sec. Vilsack helped pass and implement the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act to help combat child hunger and obesity by making the most significant improvements to U.S. school meals in 30 years.”

What was included in these “significant improvements” in 2010?

For starters, America’s schools were forced to offer only fat-free flavored milk and only 1% or fat-free white milk, while the screws were tightened on the requirement that less than 10% of a school meal’s calories could come from saturated fat and by reducing the total number of calories in a meal served to children at school, while at the same time putting both program and promotion emphasis on plant-based meals containing scant lean protein.

This means that not only are dairy producers prohibited from putting their best and most nutritious foot forward with future milk drinkers at school, the schools are forced to serve butter substitutes and imitation cheese or cheeses that are diluted with starch to decrease the amount of calories the students receive from fat).

During the Pennsylvania Dairy Summit in February 2018, keynote speaker Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise — without realizing the significance of her statement — put these USDA / GENYOUth ideas to shame. She stated:

“The fat we eat is not the fat we get. The idea that 60 minutes of exercise can make up for a bad diet is disingenuous. You can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet.”

And Teicholz backed up her statement with facts, studies and charts.

Her 2014 book details her 10-years investigation, revealing the lack of sound science to support low-fat diets. Not only are new studies bearing this out, old studies were found to have been “buried” by the National Institute of Health (NIH) and American Heart Association, because they did not support the fat-heart hypothesis of Ancel Keys.

GENYOUth and FUTP60 not only dutifully “followed” these government guidelines but in reality worked alongside the Obama administration to develop them and further the reach of this low-fat dogma.

The implementation of those school milk rules have cost dairy farmers plenty in lost milk sales. Losses so steep that they drove the gradual declines in fluid milk consumption (see Fluid Milk Timeline chart below) plunging downward like a rock from 2010 through 2017 (most recent full-year figures)

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Timelines don’t lie. As we look at this fluid milk timeline, we can see the layered effects of government dietary policy, USDA requirements for fat-free milk (2010), that move occurring alongside the creation of GENYOUth (2010) and some reversal in whole milk trends moving higher after Nina Teicholz’s book Big Fat Surprise made the cover of Time magazine. Meanwhile, the past decade has also been one of FDA non-enforcement of milk’s standard of identity, allowing plant-based alternatives to take hold and proliferate. 

Bob Gray for the Northeast Association of Farm Cooperatives addressed these losses on a dairy policy forum panel in Washington exactly one year ago on January 8, 2018. Gray said: “For the last six years (2010 through 2016 data), we have not been able to sell 1% milk in the schools.”

He noted that in just the four years from 2012 to 2015, dairy producers had “lost 288 million half pints of sales to schoolchildren because of this move, alone.” And those losses continued through 2016 and 2017 and into 2018, despite the small move by the Trump administration to allow 1% flavored milk back into schools.

This is an uphill battle to turn around — what with all the fat-free and low-fat promotion and the fact that schools are already aligned with processors that prefer to keep the fat-free pipeline going.

In addition to GENYOUth honoring Secretary Vilsack with the 2017 Vanguard Award, the National Dairy Board provided him a checkoff-funded salaried position as CEO of USDEC, where his rallying cry has been to get export sales to 20% of expanding total milk production while Class I sales as a percentage of total milk production declined to below 20% by the end of 2017.

Remember, experts at various dairy market forums throughout 2018 have made the point that exports do not raise farm-level milk prices because they are “commodity clearing markets.”

But maybe that is the point.

If fluid milk consumption erodes as a percentage of milk production, the cost of milk to processors is reduced for the many other products competing globally for export sales to increase. Meanwhile, a pipeline for fat-free milk sales keeps the cost of milkfat for other products from accelerating in the farm milk check.

The highest-value class under the Federal Order pricing scheme is the shrinking piece of an expanding commodity-dairy-production-for-export pie.

Meanwhile, the past decade has been one of FDA non-enforcement of milk’s standard of identity, allowing plant-based alternatives to take hold and proliferate.

One can argue that the National Dairy Council — whether simply following USDA’s lead or by working alongside USDA to lead — has played right into the hands of GENYOUth ‘friend’ PepsiCo / Quaker.

Remember, Quaker was a company that DMI specifically partnered with a few years back, but the milk part of the Quaker Oatmeal promotion never really materialized, just like we don’t see the milk part promoted in any of the NFL’s Fuel Up to Play 60 spots. But the NFL is joined at the hip to PepsiCo with side-by-side logos during televised games.

Now, just six weeks after receiving the 2018 Vanguard award from GENYOUth, PepsiCo is launching its own Quaker Oat beverage.

In fact, PepsiCo CEO Albert Carey had the audacity to do a brief sales-pitch for what he called “our new oat milk” in his remarks after NFL commissioner Goodell handed him the highest GENYOUth award on behalf of the NFL and the National Dairy Council.

We’ll dig into that in future parts of this investigative series.

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How do we unwind a trend that demonizes and suppresses a food group?

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A dairy panel with Mike Eby, Nina Teicholz (center), Lorraine Lewandrowski and John King (not pictured) was eye-opening to food-interested people at the 25th NESAWG conference in Philadelphia. Minds were opened as food policy influencers report weeks later some are reading Teicholz’s book The Big Fat Surprise, and it is changing their thinkingAllied Milk Producers helped sponsor this panel. Stay tuned. 

JUNK NUTRITION SCIENCE STILL RULES DIETARY GUIDELINES

25th NESAWG brings dairy to table in Philadelphia 

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, December 14, 2018

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — Justice, power, influence… Balance. How do people unwind a trend that demonizes and suppresses a food group?

How do Americans have faith in an increasingly globalized food system that gives them choices, but behind the scenes, makes choices for them?

How do urban and rural people connect?

These questions and more were addressed as hundreds of food-interested people from all backgrounds and walks of life gathered for two days in center-city Philadelphia recently for the 25th Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) conference.

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Lorraine Lewandrowski (left), a central New York dairy farmer and attorney, talks with Niaz Dorry of NFFC. Dorry spoke on the opening panel about her 67,000-mile tour of rural America, urging others to “meet the farmers where they are.” Lewandrowski spoke about the ecology of rainfed grasslands in the Northeast and the struggle of family dairy farms throughout this landscape.

For Niaz Dorry of the National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC), the answer is simple: “Get out into the countryside and meet the farmers — where they are,” she said, during the opening panel of the conference as she talked of her recently completed America the Bountiful tour, driving over 67,000 miles of countryside — coast to coast.

Dorry also touched on the dairy crisis. “Go and experience their grief with them. Be with them at milking on Tuesday and see them sell a portion of their cows on Wednesday — just to make payroll.”

Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture, Russell Redding echoed this theme during the lunch address as he said agriculture is “zipcode-neutral,” that we need to forge “a more perfect union in our food system” but that the future lies in “differentiating” agriculture here.

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“We see our future — and our long-term investments in Pennsylvania — driven by differentiation…” said Pennsylvania Ag Secretary Russ Redding.

“It’s nice to be with folks who understand the power of food to change lives,” said Redding as he mentioned rooftop gardens, urban brownfields and Pennsylvania’s rank as number two in the nation for organic sales.

“We see our future — and our long-term investments in Pennsylvania — driven by differentiation, by being able to grow and produce and market organic agriculture,” said Sec. Redding.

With the NESAWG goal to “cultivate a transformative food system,” panels and breakouts covered topics from building networks and insuring equity among sectors to understanding urban food trends and ways to position Northeast agriculture within the power grid that ordains the direction of mainstream food production, processing and distribution today.

A breakout session on building “farm-to-school” hubs, for example, gave attendees insight for getting more fresh, local foods into school meals. Presenters talked about obstacles, and how they are navigated, about martialing available resources, identifying networks, working in collaboration with others, piloting ideas and growing them. Farm-to-School began in 2007, and it is growing.

Another breakout brought a panel of dairy producers to share with urban neighbors the crisis on Northeast dairy farms. The panel featured the work of dairy producers Jonathan and Claudia Haar of West Edmeston, New York, who spoke about consolidation that has been underway for decades in dairy.

But it was an afternoon panel — Milk Economies, Ecology and Diet — that put dairy and livestock producers squarely in the realm of hope for a re-wind.

Keynoting this panel was Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise and founder of The Nutrition Coalition. She covered the history of current government Dietary Guidelines and how rigorous studies have been ignored for decades because they don’t “fit” the narrative on saturated fats and cholesterol.

She was joined by dairy farmer and attorney Lorraine Lewandrowski of Herkimer County, New York, who spoke on dairy ecology and how the rainfed grasslands and croplands of Northeast dairy farms are a haven to wildlife, especially important species of birds and butterflies and pollinators.

They were joined by Mike Eby and John King of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, representing National Dairy Producers Organization and Allied Milk Producers. The two men spoke on the dairy economy and what is happening on family dairy farms, struggling to remain viable.

“The land is most important to us,” said Lewandrowski about her deep love of Honey Hill, where her family has farmed for four generations. While, she is an attorney in town with farmers among her clients, she also helps her brother with the farm and her sister with her large animal veterinary practice.

Lewandrowski is known as @NYFarmer to her over 26,000 followers on Twitter — generating over 75,000 interactions from nearly a quarter-million tweets in the past 10 years!

She described a reverence for the land and its wildlife — cohabitating with a rich agricultural heritage and sense of rural community that exists within an afternoon’s drive of New York City.

“We have land that is rich in water,” she said with a nod to a dairy industry consolidating into regions that rely on irrigation.

“Our lands are rainfed: 21 million gallons of water run through our farm with an inch of rainfall,” she said. “Our farms are diverse across this landscape. But our farmers are going out of business in this economy. So many of these farms are then turned into urban sprawl. What will become of the people, the land and its wildlife?”

Lewandrowski talked about identifying bird species on their farm, of the crops and pasture in dairy operations, and the economic hardships she sees firsthand. She shared her vision of Northeast rural lands and what they bring to urban tables and communities.

Introducing Teicholz to an audience primarily of urban people, Lewandrowski shared how dairy farmers feel — working hard to produce healthy food, and then contending with poor prices driven by regulations that suppress its value.

“I didn’t know why our food is not considered good and healthy. Nina’s book gave me hope,” she said. “We are fighting for our land, and yet the vegans are so mean. When our farmers go out of business, they cheer on social media. They cheer when our families lose everything. But the land and wildlife lose also, and the vegans cheer.”

Teicholz traced the history of her 10-year investigation that led to The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet. It started with a newspaper assignment on dietary fat.

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Nina Teicholz explains the revelations of a decade of investigation leading to The Big Fat Surprise. In the 5 years since publishing, farmers seek her out to thank her. She says she never realized how it must feel to be a dairy or meat producer — producing a healthy product while being told it is not healthy and seeing your livelihood pushed down by faulty dietary controls.

“Before I knew it, I had taken this huge deep-dive into fats and realized we have gotten it all completely wrong,” said Teicholz, a former vegetarian for 25 years before her research.

“I’m here to speak today because I found Lorraine’s twitter account and fell in love with her photos and stories from the dairy farm,” said Teicholz. In the nearly five years since her book was published, awareness of ignored science has been raised.

A California native, living in New York City, Teicholz described herself as an urban person and how surprised she was to hear the stories from farmers about how her book and her work gives them hope.

“It breaks my heart to now realize that — after all this time — the dairy farmers and meat producers have been led to feel that there is something wrong with the food they are producing, and to see how vegans go after these farmers, and now after me too,” Teicholz related.

“How did we come to believe these things that led to the decline in foods like whole milk, and have pushed down the producer?” Teicholz traced the history of dietary caps to the theory of one researcher — Ancel Keys from the University of Minnesota.

“Concern about heart disease in the 1960s led to many theories. The diet-heart hypothesis of Ancel Keys was just one theory, but he was unshakably confident in his own beliefs, and he was considered arrogant, even by his friends,” said Tiecholz.

“When the American Heart Association nutrition committee first supported Keys’ recommendations — even though the scientific evidence was very weak — that was the little acorn that grew into the giant oak, and it’s why we are where we are today,” she explained.

Methodically, Teicholz took her audience through the science that was used to support Keys’ theory, as well as the many more rigorous studies that were buried for decades.

In fact, some of the very research by the National Institute of Health (NIH) that had set out to prove causation for Keys’ theory was buried in the NIH basement because “the results were so disappointing to that theory.”

The studies that did not validate Keys’ theory — that fat in the diet is the cause of heart disease, obesity and other diseases — were suppressed, along with the studies that outright refuted his theory. A steady drumbeat of science — both new and exposed from those earlier times — shows a reverse association and causation.

48329399_2290819234570553_8398919649542012928_n.pngIn fact, since the Dietary Guidelines capped saturated fat in the 1980s — becoming progressively more restrictive in requiring lowfat / high carb diets — the data show the association, that Americans have become more obese, with higher rates of diabetes and heart disease.

“It feels like the battle is endless,” John King said as he spoke of the real struggle on dairy farms and of selling his dairy herd in 2015. “But it is rewarding and encouraging to see what people are doing to expose the truth now.”

King posed the question: “Do urban communities really care about rural communities? If not, then we are done. Our food will come from somewhere else and the system will be globalized.

“As farmers, we care about what we produce, and we care about our animals,” he said. “What happens to us on our farms trickles down to the urban areas. It’s an uphill battle to try to go against the status quo, and we need urban communities to care if we are going to be successful. It comes down to whether urban and rural care about each other. Do we care about our neighbors?”

Teicholz sees the U.S. being in the midst of a paradigm shift. However, it is taking time for the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to change and open up to the science. She noted that in the 2015-2020 guidelines, the caps were removed for cholesterol, but they were kept in place for saturated fat.

“The cholesterol we consume has nothing to do with blood cholesterol,” said Teicholz. “The body produces cholesterol, and if we eat fat, our body makes less of it. It is the science that remains buried that needs to continue to surface. People need to know that the fat you eat is not the fat you get.”

She cited studies showing the healthfulness of full-fat dairy, that drinking whole milk and consuming the healthy fats in butter, beef, bacon and cheese are the fastest ways to increase the HDL ‘good’ cholesterol in the bloodstream.

It is the saturated fat caps in the current guidelines that are the reason whole milk, real butter, beef, and 100% real cheese are not served in schools today, said Teicholz. She showed attendees how these recommendations drive the food supply.

“The recommendations are allowing children to have whole milk only for the first two years of life, after that, at age one or two, children on skim milk,” she said. “The recommendations drive what we eat whether we realize it or not.”

She showed how the current flawed Dietary Guidelines drive the diets of the military, school children, daycare centers, WIC programs, hospitals, prisons, retirement villages. And these recommendations are downloaded by foodservice and healthcare: physicians, dieticians, nutrition services, foodservice menu guides. They are driving how dairy and meat products are presented in restaurants, fast food chains and other menus of choice. They are driving the current FDA nutrition innovation strategy that is working on a symbol for “healthy” and looking at modernizing standards of identity to accomplish these nutritional goals that focus on lowfat / high carb diets.

“Meanwhile, it is the unsaturated fats, the new products in the food supply, that are negatively affecting us and those are all there… in the USDA feeding programs,” Teicholz pointed out.

Others in the panel discussion pointed to an anti-animal view, that cattle are bad for the planet in terms of climate change. These views perpetuate the current dietary guidelines. In fact, in 2015, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee attempted to introduce “sustainability” guidelines on what they deemed “healthy” for the planet into these guidelines, officially.

This is the ecology side that Lewandrowski addressed, showing urban food influencers how the concept of sustainability is being overtaken and systemized and how Northeast dairy farmers have a great story to tell that is being ignored, drowned-out.

“We have to think about how the shifts are occurring in the food system and manage those shifts. We can work together and make change happen,” said Mike Eby, articulating the message of National Dairy Producers Organization (NDPO), seeking to work with the system to manage farmers’ interests.

Allied Milk Producers helped sponsor this dairy panel, and Eby said that whether it is milk promotion through Allied, membership in NDPO, or supporting the buying and donating of dairy products through Dairy Pricing Association (DPA), it is important for people to participate.

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Mike Eby and John King brought Allied Milk Producers materials — and plenty of milk — to the NESAWG conference in Philadelphia. Amos Zimmerman also had a booth for Dairy Pricing Association.

He gave examples of how Allied and DPA — funded by farmers — are reaching out to consumers, schools, urban communities with donations of product and a positive message.

“We need more people to get involved to fix these issues, and to create a system that supports its producers and stabilizes prices,” said Eby.

“We need to reach out and work together as urban and rural communities,” added Lewandrowski.

 

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Hundreds of food-interested people from all backgrounds and walks of life attended the 25th Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group conference in Philadelphia, where networking from urban to rural looked at regional solutions.

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What will become of, us?

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

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

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

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

Wait, maybe they do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What will become of, us?

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

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

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

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

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

Dairy farmers remain paralyzed by three things:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are big things to watch and participate in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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