Stop Milking It, Dairy Farmers Tell Plant-Based CompetitorsMarch 2, 2020
What’s milk? For Jason Gallion, the only full-time farmer serving in the Maryland state Senate, the question is a no-brainer.
“It’s always been assumed the definition of milk is that it’s from a mammal,” said Gallion, 43, whose first job at age 15 was milking cows on his uncle’s dairy farm.
But defining “milk” has become more complicated and contentious as almond, oat, soy and other plant-based alternatives compete for customers and dairy farmers struggle.
The dairy industry wants the federal government to restrict use of the “milk” label to fluid “obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows.” Legislation is pending on Capitol Hill, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is investigating the issue. In the meantime, dairy advocates are pressing their cause in state legislatures.
North Carolina was the first state, in 2018, to enact a law that could limit — eventually — what can be called milk. To avoid disruption of interstate commerce, the law won’t take effect unless 11 of 14 other states pass similar measures.
“If there’s anybody in the whole wide world who deserves to make a living, it’s dairy farmers,” said North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler, who took the idea for a state labeling law to lawmakers. “They milk cows two or three times a day, every day. They’re very devoted to what they do.”
There’s no intention to take plant-based beverages off shelves, Troxler said, but “‘milk’ needs to come out of the label. That’s the first step. There also needs to be clear nutritional labeling.”
In Maryland, Gallion, a Republican, was in office only a few months last year when he heard about North Carolina’s law. He had milked 60 Holsteins and Jerseys on his farm from 1999 to 2004 before switching to farming beef cattle and hay. Maryland’s dairy farmers, he decided, needed protection, too.
“I’m for truth in labeling,” Gallion said. “Plant-based companies are making their money off the good name of milk. It’s a fairness thing.”
Gallion’s bill passed 36-10 in the Senate and 118-21 in the House, after the addition of the contingency that it will not take effect unless 11 other states pass similar measures by 2029.
But some lawmakers staunchly oppose the bills.
“Most consumers are intelligent enough to know it’s coming from plants, not a cow,” said Indiana state Rep. Justin Moed, a Democrat who represents an urban district in Indianapolis. He was an…