Got milk? Answer in NC may soon be no if it's plant-based

A provision in the proposed 2018 Farm Bill would ban the marketing of soy milk, almond milk or any other plant-based drink in North Carolina as "milk" by Jan 1, 2019.

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Laura Leslie
, WRAL Capitol Bureau chief
RALEIGH, N.C. — Call it the "Milk Defense Act."

A provision in the proposed 2018 Farm Bill would ban the marketing of soy milk, almond milk or any other plant-based drink in North Carolina as "milk" by Jan 1.

Senate Agriculture and Environment Committee Chairman Brent Jackson, R-Sampson, said federal regulations require milk "to come from a hoofed animal," but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not enforced it.

Actually, the FDA definition of milk doesn't mention hooves or even mammals – human mothers provide breast milk to their children – saying it is "the lacteal secretion ... of one or more healthy cows."

"This section does not ban these products, but they must not be labeled as milk by 2019," Jackson explained Tuesday, saying "the vast majority of the countries around the world" already disallow the labeling of plant-based beverages as "milk."

"Our dairy farmers need it," Jackson added. "They’re in dire straits currently and have been for a number of years."

Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler took the podium to echo that, saying that, for the past three years, dairy farmers have had to sell milk at below production costs.

Troxler said 188 countries around the world, including Canada and the European Union, already ban the labeling of plant-based drinks as "milk," which he said is confusing to consumers.

"You ask people what's in it, they say, 'It's almond-flavored milk,'" Troxler said. "But no, it's not."

Sen. Erica Smith, D-Northampton, asked if there's any evidence that consumers are actually confused.

"Just from informal survey and asking people what’s in these products," Troxler replied. "I don’t need evidence. It’s already the law."

"I'm a confused consumer. I would have bet my car that there was some semblance of milk in those products, and I would have lost my car," said Sen. Tom McInnis, R-Richmond.

Smith countered that a lot of beauty products are also labeled "milk."

"I'm certainly not confused to drink my hair milk or my bath milk," she said.

"Are we going to have pull all the soy and almond milk off the shelf?" asked Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenburg.

"This won’t be a gestapo action," Troxler replied. "We will send out notification letters of the dates that these products have to be relabeled."

Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham, pointed out that some chains, like Trader Joe's, already sell the products as "drink," not "milk," so many distributors are already carrying the products under different labels.

"It's just truth in labeling, is all it’s about. It’s not about the products," Troxler agreed.

The bill also contains a laundry list of other agriculture-related provisions, some of which are likely to be controversial. But only about 30 minutes was allotted for debate, and milk occupied most of that time. It won committee approval on a voice vote. It goes next to the Senate Finance Committee.

If the bill becomes law, Troxler said North Carolina would be the first state to pass such a measure.


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