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Battle Continues over Truthful Labeling for Milk & Dairy Products

From Agribusiness Examiner #290 9/30/03
By Al Krebs <avkrebs@earthlink.net>

CONSUMERS BEING LEFT IN THE DARK
CONCERNING ORIGIN, COMPOSITION
OF MANUFACTURED DAIRY PRODUCTS

JOHN E. PECK, THE CAPITAL (MADISON, WISCONSIN) TIMES: "Milk is milk" --- or so goes the latest rhetoric from public relations firms and right-wing think
tanks on the payroll of agribusiness.

With such a wishy-washy definition, it really doesn't matter to corporate dairy processors like Dannon, Kraft or Dreyers whether their yogurt, cheese and ice cream are made from real milk or instead rely upon cheaper imported milk protein concentrate (MPC) from dairy cows downwind from Chernobyl or Asian water buffalo.

Smart consumers and farmers know, however, that there is a whole range of quality to be found in the dairy case. On one end are conventional dairy products often produced with synthetic bovine growth hormone and possibly containing other dangerous residues of factory farming such as antibiotics, dioxin and pesticides. Further down the aisle, one finds a whole grab bag of "pseudo" dairy foodstuffs, containing illegal MPC, casein or even the likes of vegetable oil and corn starch ("processed cheese" can contain up to a third non-dairy filler).

Of course, this bottom-of-the-barrel approach means more money for the dairy giants. As industry spokeswoman Jane Leland frankly notes: "A company like Kraft wants to produce the most cheese and serve the most number of customers and make the most
money they can. It's not driven by quality."

Thankfully, on the other end of the dairy case one can still find wholesome healthier alternatives. These include clearly labeled rBGH-free milk and/or certified organic dairy products. Better yet, some grocery stores offer "grass-fed" dairy items (higher in cancer-fighting conjugated linoleic acid, beta carotene, Vitamin E and healthy Omega-3 fatty acids) and even artisanal raw milk cheeses well known in Europe.

But on July 3, Monsanto filed suit against Oakhurst Dairy in Maine, alleging that its publicized farmers' pledge of "no artificial growth hormones" disparaged Monsanto's brand name rBGH, called Posilac. This crass challenge to the First Amendment
sent chills through smaller dairy processors across the United States who remain committed to supporting family farmers through a consumers' right to know approach.

Adding insult to injury, the International Dairy Foods Association --- the lobby arm of the dairy industry --- renewed its demand this summer to downgrade the FDA's definition of both yogurt and ice cream, allowing use of MPC instead of real milk.
This rang fresh alarm bells among many consumer advocates and farm groups who are already grimly aware of runaway dairy case price gouging. As reported earlier this year, nationwide "downsizing" of both ice cream and yogurt containers is well under way (from half a gallon to 1.75 quart and from 8 ounces to 6 ounces) even as the store price stays the same. This dirty tactic, called "weight out" by industry technocrats, is perfectly legal as long as the label reflects the actual amount.

* It is time both consumers and farmers fought back to reclaim the integrity of real milk's role in our nation's dairy case. Public support is needed for bipartisan legislation now in Congress (H.R. 1160, co-sponsored by Wisconsin Reps. Obey, Sensenbrenner
and Kleczka, and S. 560, co-sponsored by Wisconsin Sens. Feingold and Kohl)
to impose stiff tariffs on U.S. imports of MPC and casein. Other grass-roots pressure needs to be applied directly on the FDA to enforce food safety rules and halt the illegal use of untested industrial grade MPC in dairy products.

Consumers and farmers must also mount a grass-roots challenge to agribusiness and work together to resist any further degradation of federal dairy standards --- whether for milk, cheese, ice cream or yogurt. This includes defending the public's right to know just how food is produced and where it comes from through "truth in labeling."

Unless citizens can reassert their democratic authority over the food system, real milk may well become another victim of corporate profiteering and fade away from the dairy case.

John E. Peck is Executive Director of the Family Farm Defenders


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