Letters to the editor May 31

We need better milk prices, not band-aids

On May 17, I submitted a comment in response to Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand’s (NY) proposal, which may give individual dairy farmers approximately $8,000.

The average dairy farm is losing several times this much every month. This is a very short-term remedy, and this amount of money may pay one bill, if we are lucky. Get real, people. Our expenses have increased, although we are told to cut our costs. The costs of repairs and maintenance are out of control. If our tractor needs a major repair, $8,000 is a drop in the bucket. Farmers are charged anywhere from $80 to $100 per hour, the travel time it takes for the mechanic to get to your farm, mileage for their vehicle, plus the costs of parts.

We just had to replace a tire on our harvester at a cost of $2,000. That is just for one tire. To replace a piece of equipment, the cost is unreal. Our utility bills, fuel bills, and supplies are another cost. Then, as dairy farmers who are dedicated to our work of 365 days, we are expected to produce and sell our milk for under cost of production, which has created a heavy debt load and additional interest expense. The farmer is at the bottom of the ladder. We have no control over our milk price and no one to pass our costs on to like the cooperatives. The hauling, advertising, dues, market adjustment, make allowance, and any other costs they create gets deducted from our milk checks.

Again, this proposal is a very short-term remedy. Dairy farmers need an emergency $20 per hundredweight floor price under all milk used to manufacture dairy products. We need public, federal and state hearings, to determine a long-term remedy for our survival.

Barb Troester, board member, Farm Women United
Mifflinburg, PA

Preferential ‘discretion’

On April 29, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told a U.S. Senate panel that the agency has “exercised enforcement discretion” when it comes to holding plant-based drink manufacturers accountable for mislabeling their products as “milk.” Federal standards, by the way, define milk as a product sourced from mammals. 

I first became aware of this term in a General Accounting Office (GAO) report on ultra-filtered milk released on March 6, 2001, in which the original language accused FDA of “withholding enforcement” relative to “standards of identity” and labeling for dairy products. FDA objected to this terminology, and it was replaced by “exercise enforcement discretion.”

Over the past 20-plus years, many efforts have been made to change “standard of identity” rules and/or allow ultra-filtered milk or milk protein concentrate (MPC) to be used in cheese without identifying it on the label.  On August 11, 2017, the FDA publically renewed its policy to “exercise enforcement discretion” relative to violations of standardized cheese recipes and inaccurate ingredient listings on product labeling. 

So what rules does FDA actually enforce related to milk? In a June American Agriculturist story, “Skim milk an imitation dairy product? Say it ain’t so,” FDA requires pasteurized milk that contains less fat than whole milk have vitamins A and D added. If these synthetic vitamins are not added, milk, sold across state lines must be labeled as “imitation milk” or “imitation milk product.”

Obviously, there is nothing “imitation” about pure milk with nothing added. This is truly one of the most bizarre rules that I have heard of—but one that FDA is willing to enforce. South Mountain Creamery of Middletown, MD, on April 5 filed a lawsuit against the FDA in U.S. District Court, Harrisburg, PA to be allowed to sell the skimmed milk from its creamery in PA as “skim milk;” we’ll have to wait to see how the court rules.

Gerald Carlin
Meshoppen, PA

[Next week’s issue will have more coverage on current crises in the dairy industry.]


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