Is there a milk problem in North Carolina?
State Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler and a few state senators would have us believe that there is something of a milk production crisis in North Carolina. The culprit? Almond and soy milk.
On Tuesday, the state Senate Agriculture and Environment Committee considered and passed a committee substitute for the NC Farm Act of 2018. An added provision in the substitute bill would prohibit the marketing of plant-based drinks as “milk” (such as almond milk and soy milk) in North Carolina by January 1, 2019.
According to WRAL:
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.
If this requirement is already in federal law, then what is the need for a North Carolina law?
According to proponents of the labeling change, consumers are merely confused about the products and are purchasing plant-based drinks labeled as milk believing those products are dairy milk. Never mind the fact that increased purchases of plant-based “milk” are likely a market signal.
The argument then goes that because of declining sales of dairy milk and increased sales of plant-based “milk,” North Carolina dairy farmers are forced to sell their milk below cost and are suffering in their business.
If passed, North Carolina would be the first state to pass this type of regulation.
But again, why?
It’s true that dairy farmers are facing hard times with a historical pricing crisis. However, the crisis is from a problem of oversupply in the United States – mainly built on federal subsidies. Another contributing factor – according to experts – is that large milk-consuming countries, like China, are starting to produce dairy supplies of their own.
No one is blaming almond milk or soy milk, except North Carolina lawmakers.
The new North Carolina regulation seems silly at face value and is a solution looking for a problem. The fact that it is already federal law is not an argument that it is good policy.
North Carolina’s dairy milk production peaked in 1985 at 1.75 billion pounds. By 2016, North Carolina dairy milk production is down by 45 percent, at 965 million pounds.
I will agree that dairy prices are dropping and production is down. However, I’m not going to blame marketing ploys by Big Almond and Big Coconut for those problems. It’s the fact that the industry has been unable to transition within the market because it is so reliant on government subsidies and regulation.
North Carolina needs to leave this alone, or find solutions to get the federal government out of the North Carolina dairy industry. Changing marking signs in grocery stores isn’t going to help anyone, except politicians who want to say they did something.