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When is milk not milk?

By Dave Frederickson
National Farmers Union President

(Monday, Aug. 11, 2003 - CropChoice guest commentary) -- Believe it or not, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration may soon consider changing the definition of milk.

Petitions have been filed with FDA requesting a revision of the definition of milk. The petitions, which were filed on behalf of the National Cheese Institute, the Grocery Manufacturers of America, Inc., the National Food Processors Association, and the American Dairy Products Institute, requests permission to use fluid filtered milk as an ingredient in standardized cheeses and other cheese products.

National Farmers Union is opposed to allowing fluid ultra-filtered milk to be used as an ingredient in natural cheese and cheese products. Dairy farmers have worked to develop an identity of milk and dairy products as pure and wholesome in the eye of the American consumer.

The change would seriously compromise decades of work and investment by the nation’s dairy farmers and quality cheese makers and would be a serious deception to our nation’s consumers.

The change of definition will allow the use of fluid ultra-filtered milk to be used in the manufacture of cheese and other dairy products. The more than 70 different cheeses covered by the FDA’s standard of identity regulations do not allow fluid ultra-filtered milk as an approved ingredient. Therefore, these cheeses are expected by the consumers to be of uncompromised quality. Changing the standard by yielding to "special interests" would betray consumers and their trust in one of the most wholesome and basic foods!

According to the March 6, 2001, GAO report on ultra-filtered milk, the separation by filtration results in a highly concentrated ultra-filtered milk that is not nutritionally equivalent to fluid milk. The study cites that in the filtration process most of the vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and lactose are removed. Another study conducted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign reports the main minerals found in milk, calcium and phosphorous, are soluble and therefore some would be removed during the ultra-filtration process.

Allowing the use of fluid ultra-filtered milk, but not dried ultra-filtered milk, would result in a breach of World Trade Organization commitments according to Allan Burton, president of New Zealand Milk Products USA. Also as noted by an Irish Dairy Board estimate, "a change in U.S. regulation aimed at allowing liquid milk protein concentrates but not dried milk proteins would result in injury claims under Uruguay Round trade rules that would cost the U.S. $447 million."

During a meeting of dairy farmers in Washington in April, FDA Deputy Commissioner Lester Crawford said, "Only God can change the definition of milk." It is vital that the commissioner is held accountable to that statement and that FDA not be allowed to make any changes to the definition of milk.

On behalf of 300,000 farm and ranch families, National Farmers Union ( www.nfu.org ) works to protect and enhance the economic interests and quality of life for rural citizens through legislative representation, educational opportunities and support for farmer-owned cooperative ventures. Contact NFU at nfunews@nfu.org .