Is mandatory dairy checkoff funding real milk’s demise?

Through futuristic lens: Is it time to end USDA control of dairy promotion?

No matter what innovations they come up with in the future, real dairy milk will always be the completely natural, minimally-processed, clean-label product with the superior combination of complete protein, healthy fat, and long list of essential natural nutrients, not additives. Treating real dairy milk like a cheap commodity must end. Innovative marketing may be more important in today’s times than innovative manufacturing processes. Government rules make it difficult to truly promote real dairy milk. It’s time to re-think the government oversight of the mandatorily farmer-funded milk promotion business so that truly competitive promotion can happen. (Istock photo).

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, March 29, 2019

“It’s not that the bad guy came and took it (fluid milk sales), it’s that us, the dairy industry collectively, did not keep growing and innovating and doing what we should do. Instead of getting in a lather about plant-based food companies, let’s do what we are supposed to be doing as an industry. Let’s do marketing. Let’s do innovation. Let’s have dairy-based protein in 3-D printers and whatever comes next. That’s where we need to be.”

These were the words of Tom Gallagher, CEO of Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) to his dairy checkoff board recently as shared here, and in the March 20, 2019 edition of Farmshine from a video of his comments.

A glimpse into what that might mean was revealed at the IDFA (International Dairy Foods Association) convention in January, where DMI’s vice president of global innovation partnerships, Paul Ziemnisky told attendees that 95% of households have milk and buy milk, but that these households engage in “fewer consumption occasions”, according to a recent convention report in Dairy Foods magazine.

To increase ‘consumption occasions’, DMI has been investing checkoff dollars toward innovations in “milk-based” beverage growth, he said.

Through its Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, DMI has invested checkoff dollars in these types of “pre-competitive” innovations in the past — an example being fairlife.

It is interesting that in both Gallagher’s comments to the DMI board and in the presentation by DMI’s Ziemnisky’s to processors, the term dairy-based or milk-based is used.

As we’ve reported previously, the direction of dairy innovation over the past 10 to 20 years has not been lacking in its drive to pull out the components of milk for inclusion in a variety of products — taking milk apart and putting it back together again — in a way that is new and different or in a way that presents milk and dairy as a new product.

Expect to see this type of innovation increase via these investments of dairy checkoff dollars into developing combination beverages that include pieces of milk in entirely new beverages.

This is what is meant by innovation.

At the IDFA convention, DMI gave processors a glimpse into some of the innovations they are working on to address four consumer targets that DMI has identified:

1)      A milk- and nut-based combination beverage,

2)      A milk with lavender and melatonin to promote sleep,

3)      A yo-fir product (kefir plus yogurt) beverage,

4)      A milk beverage that provides just a hint of flavor,

5)      More concepts in high-protein milk-based beverages,

6)      A ‘plosh’ blend of tea, coffee and milk, and

7)      An all-natural concept of milk blended with fruit.

As the overall beverage sector is exploding with new beverages of all kinds every year — some winners and some losers — DMI is looking to do more in the re-creation of dairy in the beverage space with new combination beverages that include milk, or components of milk, but are not identified as milk. These beverages will compete with non-dairy beverages, but in a sense, this track would further compress real dairy milk into its age-old commodity posture. Of course, those who are engaged in promotion of real dairy milk can position it as the wholly natural choice in a beverage sector of further processed combinations and concoctions.

Something to watch and be aware of is that PepsiCo – a company the dairy checkoff organizations are forming stronger bonds with — is on the frontier of turning drink dispensing machines into a hybrid of 3-D printing and multi-source create-your-own beverage dispensers. On the CNBC’s early-morning Squawk Box business news a few months ago, this concept was discussed showing a prototype where consumers can create their own unique beverage by pushing buttons for a little of this and a little of that. Millennials look for unique and “personalized” foods and beverages — we are told. And we see this trend in the “craft beer” category, for example.

A caveat to follow in this trend is the importance of labeling by USDA and FDA as the new gene-edited cell-cultured animal-based proteins and genetically-altered vat-grown yeast-produced dairy-based proteins move from the lab to the market in the next 12 to 24 months via partnerships between the billionaire-funded food technology startup companies and the world’s largest agricultural supply-chain companies. 

While everyone is watching what happens in the cell-cultured fake-meat category and the partnerships there with Cargill, most of us do not realize how close the dairy versions are to scaling-for-market — since Perfect Day company partnered last fall with ADM (Archer Daniels Midland). That partnership is predicated on ADM providing the facilities and mechanisms to ramp up the production of ‘cow-less’ so-called dairy proteins, and USDA research labs do the gene-altering to provide the seed-source of yeast for the process.

As these other proteins are introduced into the food supply, it is yet unclear how – exactly – they will be identified and differentiated in the marketplace. While the dairy and livestock sectors pushed hard to soften the distinctions of proteins in food from animals that have been fed GMO crops, the downside of USDA’s new Bio-Engineered (BE) food labels is that these fake proteins that are on the horizon may not be labeled or differentiated when they are a part of the final food or beverage product.

On the bio-engineering side of animal-based cell-cultured fake-meat protein production (cell-blobs grown in bioreactors), USDA and FDA are still working out the details of their combined food safety requirements.

But on the bio-engineering side of the yeast that have been genetically-altered to possess bovine DNA snips to exude ‘milk’ protein and perhaps other components (grown to exude dairy protein and components in fermentation vats), there is far less discussion of inspection or oversight.

As for the labeling of both types of bio-engineered protein, there is little discussion of how foods containing them will be labeled.

Just three months ago, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the new National Bio-Engineered Food Disclosure Standard that will be implemented in January of 2020. It is the result of the July 2016 law passed by Congress that directed USDA to establish one national mandatory standard for disclosing foods that are – or may be – bio-engineered.

USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has developed the List of Bio-Engineered Foods to identify the crops – and foods – that are available in a bio-engineered form throughout the world and for which regulated entities must maintain records that inform whether or not they must make this bio-engineered food disclosure.

Some are voluntarily complying already, as I have seen this BE statement in very small print on small containers of some Kraft ‘cheese’ spreads.

The bottom line in this mandatory BE labeling requirement is that it only pertains to the main ingredient of the further-processed food or beverage and only if there is “detectable” genetically-altered material in that food. This means that the BE labeling may not apply to fake meat or fake dairy. In the case of the fake meat, the bio-engineering is the editing of DNA to grow muscle (boneless beef for example). In the case of fake dairy, the bio-engineering is yeast altered to include specific bovine DNA, but the resulting cow-less ‘dairy’ protein would have no detectable difference, its creators say.  

All animal protein checkoff programs have a tough road ahead. If farmers and ranchers continue to fund promotion of the foods and beverages that come from dairy and livestock farms, these fake iterations of the real thing will benefit unless promotion can be targeted to the real thing and consumers see the difference on a label in order to make a choice for the real thing.

This all sounds so futuristic and like science-fiction, but in foods today, this is where we are headed and our checkoff programs should be aware and should be able to stand up for the real thing. They should be allowed to lobby regulators for fair treatment and distinct labeling because the government requires farmers to pay these checkoff deductions to promote their products. Thus, if the government does not provide a clear path to distinguish fake from real, then the fairness of requiring a checkoff should no longer be considered valid.

As for dairy farmer checkoff funds, specifically, the future is here and DMI is already moving down that road to innovate dairy-based or milk-based products that dilute the meaning of dairy and milk in the marketplace – in effect paving the way to new innovations and products in which real dairy-farm-produced milk components can be replaced by fake-dairy components from genetically-altered yeast grown in ADM fermentation vats.

Perhaps checkoff funding should be directed in these difficult and changing times toward true promotion of what is real. We see that starting to happen with the “love what’s real” campaign, launched by the Milk Processors Promotion and Education Program (MilkPEP) and supported by DMI’s Undeniably Dairy social media campaign.

More than ever, the future of our dairy farms will rely upon promotion of what is REAL – moreso than using dairy farmer checkoff funds to find ways to put pieces of milk into other products or into 3-D Printers. Profile those components. Provide the benefits of real dairy components for the manufacturers that are moving into 3-D printing of personalized foods and beverages, but keep the powder dry for a full-out real dairy campaign. If USDA does not allow real dairy farmer checkoff funds to talk about why they are so much better than the fake stuff that is here and that is coming… then it is time to get the government out of the promotion business and return these funds to dairy farmers so they can voluntarily use them to promote their real products, their true dairy brands.

In a future of murky food sources – farmers must be able to stand up for what they produce. They must be able to promote Real Milk that is unfooled-around-with, that is from the cow they have fed and cared for.

With the food revolution here, dairy promotion will need a marketing revolution to welcome people back to what’s Real — especially as more household decisions are made by people growing up without knowing what Real Whole Milk tastes like.There’s an idea. Real Whole Milk is tastier, healthier, with a truly cleaner label than about anything else that is here or that is coming to compete with it in the beverage sector.

Ditto for Real Yogurt and Real Cheese, etc. in the food sector. Undeniably Dairy – the dairy checkoff program – has a nice ring to it. Love what’s Real has a great message to it. But if dairy farmers can’t use their mandatory funds to take the fake stuff head-on, then it’s time to stop taking mandatory checkoffs and allow farmers to use their money to promote their product – no holds barred.

When the competition is funded by Silicon Valley billionaires, has the backing of major food and agriculture supply-chain companies, is sourcing genetically-altered material from USDA, and does not have government requiring distinctive labeling – then dairy farmers need a level playing field to use their hard earned $350 million plus to put a stake in the ground to promote why Real is better. Checkoff staff often say the competition is doing brand advertising and “we can’t.”

That being the case, perhaps give the money back to the farmers so they can form voluntary promotion groups or voluntarily give the funds to the brand that receives their milk to get in the game of head-to-head advertising instead of, in essence, funding a path to their own substitution and demise.

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Good news about milk is spreading rapidly

Milk Baleboard message reaches over 1 million people in first 7 days online (www.97milk.com, @97milk on facebook, @97milk1 on twitter)

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, March 1, 2019

RICHLAND, Pa. – It has taken off with overwhelming response on social media, and consumers reading and sharing the posts from “97 Milk” are expressing their surprise at how much they are learning about the goodness of milk while farmers are enthused to have a vehicle of grassroots promotion that sticks to the basics — promoting the healthy wholesomeness of dairy and helping consumers make informed choices about milk.

The big news this week is that the 97milk.com website and its corresponding facebook (@97milk) and twitter (@97milk1) accounts, have been very active, very quickly since launching last Friday evening, Feb. 22. Facebook, alone, had reached 1.2 million people by midnight Wednesday, just six days after launching.

What is 97 Milk, you ask?

Last week’s Farmshine had a feature story on page 19 about the launch of the website www.97milk.com as a grassroots offshoot of the Milk Baleboards that are popping up on farms and business properties across the countryside.

Those round bales painted with the message: Drink Local Whole Milk – 97% Fat Free were the idea of Richland, Pennsylvania dairy farmer Nelson Troutman. We have been following the development of his idea in the pages of Farmshine since Nelson made his first Milk Baleboard, pictured on our January 4, 2019 cover.

In fact, Nelson reports as of Wednesday morning, nearly two months after he made his first Milk Baleboard, he has made 26 — including one that was delivered to Farmshine on Feb. 27. He has delivered to many farms and businesses.

In addition, Dale Zimmerman of Zimhaven Holsteins in East Earl, made Milk Baleboards for his farm as well as for Shady Maple Smorgasbord just down the road. And other farmers are joining in.

Nelson continues to receive phone calls and has become somewhat famous in his community, attracting shoppers when he visits the grocery store in his home town.

“No one. Not one person, has said to me that, yes, they knew milk is virtually 97% fat free. No one, not young, nor old, nor in between,” Nelson stated in a follow up email with Farmshine early Wednesday morning, Feb. 27. “Since the bales and the website, I had people say to me that when their kids were small, the doctor told them to drink 2% milk, and now the kids are grown, and they were still drinking 2% milk — until this information came out. Now, they tell me they are drinking whole milk.

“This is all 100% education,” Nelson relates.

This overwhelming response has gone to the next level with the online presence that began Feb. 22 through a website, facebook page, instagram and twitter account for 97 Milk as the educational effort of grassroots dairy farmers. Through social media, the good news is spreading well beyond the Lebanon, Lancaster and Berks County region of Pennsylvania where the first Milk Baleboards were made and placed by Nelson on farms and businesses in the area.

How can this be?

Judging by the facebook page, there is an obvious consumer thirst for milk knowledge and an obvious farmer passion to deliver knowledge simply — without the dietary politics.

Within the first 72 hours, the @97milk facebook page had over 1000 likes and had reached over 100,000 people with the good news that whole milk is virtually 97% fat free.

Over the next 36 hours by mid-morning on Wed., Feb. 27 — not quite five days after launch — the facebook page had nearly 1,650 likes and follows, and the informational posts had reached a whopping 700,000 people. (By Thursday, Feb. 28, less than 7 days after launch, the page had over 2000 likes and had reached 1.2 million people.)

Even more important, these posts had — in less than 7 days — “engaged” nearly 100,000 people via likes, comments and shares of the educational information posted on the page. This does not include those who downloaded the informational images and shared them without sharing directly from the facebook page!

A post over the weekend (see image) illustrated the essential nutrients in milk and its composition as a hydrating beverage made up of 88% water, 5% carbohydrate, 3.5% protein and 3.25% fat, showing the long list of essential nutrients by their percentages of daily recommended values. This illustrative glass of milk reached nearly 100,000 facebook users by Wednesday morning and had engaged over 7,000 in likes, comments and shares.


Consumers are thirsty for knowledge about milk. Here is one simple example of how 97 Milk keeps the good news going. This visual facebook message was posted Wed., Feb. 27, reaching 3,300 people with nearly 300 interactions within its first three hours. Facebook image from @97milk

Another post that explained the fat percentages of milk had reached 45,000 people with 3200 interactions.

Another post giving comparisons of Real Whole Milk, 1% Real Milk, Soy, Almond and Coconut beverage reached over 17,000 people with over 1700 interactions within 24 hours.

And another post sharing the good news that all milk is tested free of antibiotics reached a whopping 608,000 facebook users and resulted in over 44,000 interactions, including over 9,000 direct shares!

Meanwhile, the posts have brought in questions and discussion in the form of public comments on the facebook page and in the form of questions sent by private message. In fact, these interactions are coming from far and wide — local, national, even international.

On Tuesday morning, the 97 Milk facebook page posted this explanation of why the Milk Baleboards have expanded to online 97 Milk communications:

“97 Milk was created to be a voice for our local dairy farmers. This is a place where people can get information on nutritious dairy products. It’s a place where farmers can tell their story, a place where our community can get information on how to support local dairy farms. There is so much confusing information regarding dairy, and there are always two sides to every story. 97 Milk tells the story of the many farms that love and care for their cows, the passion that many dairy farmers have, the many proven research-based facts on milk nutrition. This is our side that our community deserves to hear.”

The website is mentioned on every post, and it is a simple place to direct people who see the Milk Baleboards and the social media posts and want to learn more of the basics about Real Whole Milk.

Planned in the coming weeks are posts for social media that continue to provide bite-sized fact nuggets about milk, including how to learn where milk was bottled, why milk protein is called a complete protein, quotes from farmers about why they love what they do, and other inspirations. Check it out.

If you have a Milk Baleboard on your property, or have seen one displayed, please let us know the location (agrite@ptd.net) in order to help create a map of how the good news is spreading by these grassroots efforts.

If you would like a Milk Baleboard, check out last week’s page 19 feature story giving tips from Nelson on how to make one, and contact Nelson at 717. 821.1484 or Bernie Morrissey at 717.951.1774.

Jordan Zimmerman of East Earl is making and selling bumper stickers through the Lancaster County Holstein Association, and Morrissey has ordered magnetic signs.

To learn more about the online efforts, and to help spread the good news, check out the website at 97milk.com, facebook page @97milk and twitter account @97milk1.


Nelson Troutman of Richland, Pa. has made 26 Milk Baleboards for other farms and businesses in the area. Two weeks ago, he began painting them in his shop with the 97milk.com website! Photo by Sherry Bunting