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Weekly Digest: Booker, others defend plant-based ‘dairy’ labeling

Progressive Dairy Editor Dave Natzke Published on 25 May 2022

Digest highlights

Booker, others defend plant-based ‘dairy’ labeling

Four members of Congress, including a member of the Senate ag committee, sent a letter to the head of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), urging the Biden administration to reject a regulatory crackdown on plant-based products using dairy terms on labels and in marketing.

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Signing the letter were Sens. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) and U.S. Reps. Julia Brownley (D-California) and Nancy Mace (R-South Carolina). Booker is a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

The letter notes that the FDA has failed to clarify standards for “plant-based milks” for decades and does not differentiate between other animal-based milks, such as goat, buffalo or cow milk. Any guidance on plant-based milk, even if voluntary, would be “discriminatory towards the plant-based industry as well as the hard-working farmers who grow crops like oats and almonds.”

Read also: OMB reviewing FDA’s draft guidance on plant-based dairy alternative labeling and Dairy Defined: FDA’s proven it can do its job on fake milk – it can do it again.

Highland Dairy PFAS plan announced

A New Mexico dairy farm family’s long struggle with water contamination connected to chemicals commonly referred to as PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) is moving forward. New Mexico’s Environmental Department (NMED) announced a plan necessary to make Highland Dairy eligible for state and USDA assistance to cover financial damages resulting from losses due to milk and cattle sales, as well as the euthanasia and disposal of the farm’s entire dairy herd.

NMED is the state agency overseeing Highland Dairy’s plan for disposal of PFAS-contaminated cattle, which is required for the dairy to qualify for cow indemnity payments under the USDA’s recently revised Dairy Indemnity Payment Program (DIPP). The program, which the USDA expanded to go beyond lost milk sales, now provides payments to dairy producers for the lost value of their herd due to contamination from livestock exposure to chemicals like PFAS.

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In a press release, James Kenney, secretary of the NMED, said the agency was assisting Highland Dairy in managing dairy cow carcasses as hazardous substances and seeking input from experts on treatment and disposal options. In the first phase of the plan, the dairy will compost all PFAS-contaminated carcasses on the farm property. In phase two, PFAS testing of the composted material and soil at the compost site will be conducted to determine final removal and disposal options.

The Highland Dairy removal plan is believed to be the first of its kind nationally for addressing PFAS-contaminated cows as a hazardous waste and was developed in consultation with the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the state veterinarian of New Mexico, the New Mexico Department of Agriculture and NMED.

A copy of the Highland Dairy Removal Plan is available here. The NMED is also formally seeking scientific and technical information relevant to the disposal and destruction of PFAS. Responses to the formal request for information must be submitted through the NMED public comment portal by July 18, 2022.

PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals that includes perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS).

The plight of Art and Renee Schaap, fourth-generation New Mexico dairy farmers, were originally highlighted in a Progressive Dairy article in 2019. (Read: Poisoned wells: New Mexico dairy dumps milk while dealing with toxins in drinking water.)

Highland Dairy, near Clovis in New Mexico’s Curry County, is located near Cannon Air Force Base. The PFAS contamination of the Schaaps’ farm and dairy herd was linked to fire-fighting foam used at the base. Testing conducted in 2018 showed Highland Dairy’s cows and their milk contained PFAS at levels the FDA deemed unsafe for human consumption. As a result, the Schaaps were unable to sell milk or cows.

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Since October 2018, more than 3,000 dairy cows have died on the dairy, with another 617 adult cows to be euthanized.

The current estimated cost of this loss of revenue and increased expenses is more than $5.9 million, which does not account for upcoming costs associated with the on-farm composting of animal mortalities and final disposal.

In addition to the payment sought by Highland Dairy from the USDA, NMED has allocated up to $850,000 of its hazardous waste emergency fund for expenses associated with the proper disposal of PFAS-contaminated hazardous carcasses and associated wastes.

Both Kenny and the Schaaps remain critical of the U.S. Department of Defense's (DOD) handling of the PFAS contamination at the site. They contend the DOD is forcing the state to pay for cleanup and legal costs.

In late 2021, the EPA established the PFAS Strategic Roadmap. Writing for Progressive Dairy in February 2022, Alan Hahn, business development manager with Dragun Corporation, said the only mention of agriculture in the “roadmap” was a plan to finalize a risk assessment for two PFAS compounds for biosolids applied to farm fields. That assessment isn’t expected until winter 2024.

Other PFAS-related articles in Progressive Dairy have included:

PFAS: Emerging contaminant, evolving concerns for dairy

Should farmers be concerned about PFAS?

Dairy cull cow marketing slowed in April

Following seasonal patterns and higher milk prices, marketing of U.S. dairy cull cows in U.S. slaughter plants slowed in April to 237,800 head, a 10-month low.

The April 2022 total was down 59,400 head from March and 19,700 head less than April 2021. Both April 2022 and 2021 had 26 non-holiday weekdays and Saturdays.

At 1.062 million head, year-to-date (January-April 2022) cull dairy cow slaughter was about 40,000 less than the same period a year earlier. Factoring in the slowdown, the USDA’s Milk Production report previously estimated there were 9.402 million cows in U.S. herds in April 2022, down about 98,000 head from the same month a year earlier.

Heaviest dairy culling during April 2022 occurred in the Upper Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin) at 59,500 head. That was followed in the Southwest (Arizona, California, Hawaii and Nevada), where 54,400 dairy cows were marketed for beef.

Other regional totals were estimated at 35,900 head in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia; 33,700 head in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington; and 26,900 head in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

Primary data for the USDA’s Livestock Slaughter report are obtained from reports completed by inspectors from the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). These counts are combined with data from state-administered non-federally inspected (NFI) slaughter plants to derive total commercial slaughter estimates. The USDA estimates there are approximately 900 livestock slaughter plants in the U.S. operating under federal inspection and nearly 1,900 state-inspected or custom-exempt slaughter plants.

GDT price index slips lower

Last week's Global Dairy Trade (GDT) auction saw the overall index decline another 2.9%, with prices down slightly across all product categories. By product, prices were:

  • Skim milk powder was down 0.6% to $4,116 per metric ton (MT, or about 2,205 pounds).
  • Whole milk powder was down 4.9% to $3,934 per MT.
  • Butter was down 1% to $5,750 per MT.
  • Cheddar cheese was down 0.1% to $5,635 per MT.
  • Anhydrous milkfat was down 0.6% to $6,043 per MT.

The GDT platform offers dairy products from six global companies: Fonterra (New Zealand), Dairy America (U.S.), Amul (India), Arla (Denmark), Arla Foods Ingredients (Denmark) and Polish Dairy (Poland). The next GDT auction is June 7.

IDDBA: Inflation affecting food spending

Inflation is affecting food spending patterns, according to a monthly update from the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association (IDDBA).

Based on data from the Information Resources Inc. (IRI), prices per unit across all foods and beverages increased 10.7% in the four weeks ending April 24 versus the same period in 2021 and were up 19% from 2019. That’s impacting where and how consumers are making food purchases, including dairy. According to the update:

  • Although 35% of consumers are planning on cutting back on restaurant spending, it doesn’t mean fewer trips to restaurants, just smaller orders and less spending per order. One way of doing that is ordering takeout and eating at home.

  • Deli dairy may benefit from that, providing meal enhancements to restaurant takeout orders and/or serving as a takeout meal option. Sales of trays and platters have been among the growth leaders.

  • The estimated share of meals prepared at home remains high at nearly 79%.

  • Ninety-one percent of consumers expect they will cook from scratch as much or more often as last year.

  • Seventeen percent of consumers now visit multiple retailers to get the best deals, and 47% of consumers are looking for sales promotions.

  • Concerned with out-of-stock items and further inflation, 51% of consumers are now stocking up on certain items.

Retail dairy spending during April rose 12.6% year-over-year, in part due to the Easter holiday in April 2022, as well has higher prices. Biggest sellers were fluid milk and natural cheese.

What’s next? The war in Ukraine, the renewed COVID-19 lockdowns in China, record inflation, labor shortages and supply chain challenges will have a continued effect on food and frozen food sales in the months to come.  end mark

Dave Natzke
  • Dave Natzke

  • Editor
  • Progressive Dairy
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