For the latest example of why we should all be glad that Republicans aren’t going to be in control of the Virginia House of Delegates much longer, check out this mad-cow-level crazy bill, introduced today by long-time hog farmer, Virginia Beach Farm Bureau Vice President and Delegate Barry Knight (R).
That’s right; Del. Knight wants to direct the Virginia Board of Agriculture and Consumer Services “to implement a plan to ban all products misbranded as milk.” And what is “milk,” exactly, you ask? According to Knight’s bill, it is:
“Milk” means the lacteal secretion, practically free of colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of a healthy hooved mammal, including any member of the order Cetartiodactyla, including a member of the family (i) Bovidae, including cattle, water buffalo, sheep, goats, and yaks; (ii) Cervidae, including deer, reindeer, and moose; and (iii) Equidae, including horses and donkeys.
And what does “milk” *not* mean, in Knight’s view? That would be “any plant-based product that is misbranded as milk.” In other words, if Knight’s bill were ever to become law – which of course it shouldn’t – soy milk” couldn’t be called “soy milk”; “almond milk” couldn’t be called “almond milk”; “coconut milk” couldn’t be called “coconut milk”; “rice milk” couldn’t be called “rice milk”; “oat milk” couldn’t be called “oat milk”; etc.
WTF, you ask? Sadly, this is not a joke – at least not intentionally – nor is it an isolated instance. Instead, it’s part of a nationwide push by the dairy (aka, “cow milk”) industry to push back against what it sees as a threat to its market share – namely, the rapidly growing popularity of plant-based “milks” of various sorts – almond, soy, flax, oat, etc, etc.
“An almond doesn’t lactate, I will confess,” declared Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb this summer at a Politico summit.
This droll observation was music to the ears of the $35.5 billion US cattle milk industry, which lately has been challenging the $1.6 billion plant-based milk industry’s right to use the word “milk.” Gottlieb seems to be sympathetic: His agency has proposed enforcing its own labeling rules for milk, which could prevent producers of almond milk and oat milk from continuing to use the term.
But plant milk producers scored a key victory on Thursday. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that calling almond milk “milk” is not deceptive, upholding the dismissal of a lawsuit called Painter v. Blue Diamond Growers.
“Painter’s complaint does not plausibly allege that a reasonable consumer would be deceived into believing that Blue Diamond’s almond milk products are nutritionally equivalent to dairy milk based on their package labels and advertising,” according to the opinion.
At stake are what the FDA calls “standards of identity,” legally binding definitions of products to ensure consumers know what they are getting. In March, the FDA launched a strategy to update these standards “in light of marketing trends and the latest nutritional science.”
Is this as crazy as it sounds? Yes, but it’s also big business, as much healthier, better-for-animals-and-the-environmental gain ground on hoofed-animal-derived milk. In response, the dairy industry has been having…well, a cow I guess, and going after the plant-based milks’ labeling at both the federal and state levels. Check this out, for instance, from late last week:
Unfortunately though, the big meat and dairy companies started gaining traction and having victories in certain states. Missouri, Arkansas and Mississippi passed laws in 2018 and 2019 regulating labeling of products. Wisconsin, known for its large dairy industry, introduced bills that would not allow meat and dairy alternatives to use the same labelling as meat or dairy products.
However, the ACLU, ACLU of Arkansas, The Good Food Institute, and Animal Legal Defense Fund are challenging the Arkansas censorship law on behalf of The Tofurky Company by arguing that “the law violates the First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause by improperly censoring truthful speech and creating consumer confusion in order to shore up the state’s meat and other industries.”
As of December 11th, a federal court blocked the state of Arkansas from enforcing its meat label censorship law against The Tofurky Company, and the block will remain in effect while the challenge proceeds!
As the ACLU explains it, the Arkansas law would make it “illegal for companies to use words like ‘burger,’ ‘sausage,’ and ‘roast’ to describe products that are not made from animals, such as veggie burgers, even if modified by qualifiers such as ‘vegan,’ ‘veggie,’ or ‘plant-based.’ Violations of the law would carry fines of up to $1,000 for each individual label.”
Which brings us back to Del. Knight’s bill, which clearly appears to be an example of so-called “copycat legislation” – “proposed laws drafted for lawmakers by special interest groups and corporate interests” and pushed out to statehouses across the country, including here in Virginia.
Earlier this year, the Center for Public Integrity, USA TODAY and the Arizona Republic analyzed model statehouse bills to take the first nationwide accounting of how prolific copycat legislation has become.
Today, the news organizations publicly released a new model legislation tracker that goes deeper, identifying copycat legislation by comparing statehouse bills to each other — and making that information accessible to the public.
The tool developed by Public Integrity reveals model bills — some previously unidentified — that impact nearly every aspect of American life, from who can grow hemp or breed puppies, to what can be called “milk” or “meat” for purchase at your local grocery stores.
Using the new model legislation tracker, Public Integrity retrieved nearly 1.2 million bills across all 50 states and compared their text to identify when two bills in different states have common language.
Note how similar Del. Knight’s bill is to other such bills around the country, such as this one in Washington State (“defines milk as ‘the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows'”); this bill in North Carolina (“defines ‘milk’ as ‘the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy hooved mammals'”); this bill in Vermont (“This bill proposes to clarify the definition of ‘milk’ to mean the pure lacteal secretion of hooved animal”); etc.
Bottom line: Del. Knight’s bill might seem like laughable bovine excrement, but in fact…well, yes, it actually is laughable bovine excrement, except for the fact that it’s very serious when an entrenched, powerful, incumbent industry uses that power to try and block a competitor, in this case one that is rapidly rising in market share for very good reasons – for human health, animal welfare and environmental protection. Hopefully, the result will be that Del. Knight’s bill is mooooved (heh) right to where it belongs – the manure pile.