by Elizabeth A. Tomlin
Members of the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council, Inc. (ADADC), District 5, gathered for their 2013 annual meeting at the Best Western in Cobleskill.
Among the topics discussed, the decline in sales of fluid milk was of high priority.
“We have concerns about protecting the standards of the identity of milk,” said Debbie Stanton, a Schoharie Co. dairy farmer. “Walk through the grocery isle, Muscle Milk has absolutely no dairy products in it!”
Stanton pointed out other items of concern. “Soymilk, almond milk, everything is called milk! Back in the day, these standards were protected through USDA & FDA.”
According to FDA regulations a “general standard of identity” for milk is described as “the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows.”
Modified versions of traditional standardized foods must also comply with a strict set of regulations.
“Fluid utilization, class one, has been dropping,” stated Sandy Prokop, Managing Director of the NYFB Foundation for Agricultural Education at New York Farm Bureau.
“The misleading use of the term ‘milk’ concerns us, as so many (consumers) purchase without reading ingredients.”
Stanton said she had called National Milk Producers (NMP) about the misleading use of the term “milk” and was told that NMP had sent a letter to the FDA regarding the enforcement of the regulations in 2001 and again in 2011.
It was observed that sending only 2 letters over a period of 10 years was an extremely passive action.
“As a group of farmers and dairy farmers we need to take a more aggressive approach. Many of our younger generation are very active on Twitter, Facebook and other social media,” stated Stanton. “I don’t see why we couldn’t commit to a campaign.”
In addition to targeting social media, Prokop suggested that writing letters to Farm Bureau, who would then send the letters directly to the FDA in the same manner as e-lobbying, would also be beneficial. “Tell them that we want to see these standards protected in a much more considerate and consistent manner.”
Attendees reported that drinks mislabeled as “milk” are also distributed through bookstores — including college bookstores — and are seen on display at cash registers.
Martin Kelly, former President of Montgomery Co. FB, agreed that Farm Bureau should “definitely be doing something with e-lobbying”, and added more information to the discussion. “Barnes & Noble’s are leading a campaign to take over college bookstores,” Kelly stated. “Contact them and let them know what you think. Educate them on the benefits of using real milk.”
“The standards of identity are set but have not been enforced,” stated Prokop. “If we do not protect our product, who will?”
ADADC Director of Communications Elizabeth Meyer, agreed that taking a stand with the FDA to enforce traditional milk standards was an appropriate action. “As you know, the squeaky wheel gets the grease and if they were to hear from the people in the field through social media and get pressure from the farmers it would certainly bring the topic to their attention.”
Meyer reported the ‘Breakfast in the Classroom’ campaign, supported by checkoff dollars, has been very successful in increasing dairy product sales.
Dist. 5 Director Terri Phillips stated that ADADC staff work to implement long lasting changes in students’ daily diets by helping schools convert to programs like Breakfast in the Classroom. “More students are consuming meals that contain dairy and they are keeping dairy in their diets as they continue throughout their school years,” said Nelson.
Schoharie Dairy Princess Kayla Stanton reported presenting 23 programs to schoolchildren since the beginning of her 2013 reign. “I even attended a Vacation Bible School, where I actually brought a cow and gave a milking demonstration!”
Activities Stanton reported on included participation in parades, Berry-Dairy Day in Cobleskill — where she and her court handed out over 300 ice cream sundaes, events at the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown and the NYS Holstein show. A booth at the Cobleskill Sunshine Fair, where over 500 ice cream sundaes were handed out on Sunday and a live interview with WGNA radio station were also reported. “We also partner up with the 4-H and other team events,” Stanton said.
The Schoharie Dairy Princess and her court have also been active in making presentations at local ‘open farm days’ held in conjunction with the ADADC and Cabot.
“We try to get as much information out with the dairy princesses as we can,” said Phillips. “One way the ADADC now puts a face on the dairy industry is by holding ‘open farm days’; enabling consumers to meet farmers face-to-face. Consumers are becoming more interested in knowing where their food is coming from and how it is produced. This is quite the eye opener for people who have no idea how that happens!”
Meyers pointed out other ways that ADADC works directly with consumers.
“One way is we are now featuring local farms on our website. We are also in the midst of a project right now where we are creating special videos for New York City schools about the farmers that make milk.”
“The most influential way for farmers to educate the non-farming public about agriculture is by telling their unique stories,” said Prokop.
Phillips reported that the ADADC works in conjunction with others in the marketing area to ensure all parties are speaking with one voice on behalf of the dairy industry — especially in managing and minimizing negative media stories that involve dairy products and farmers. “We’re now also getting veterinarians involved in this.”