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Animal Law, Animal Welfare

Dairy industry is shook! Outrageous legislation, shocking lobby spending, and more.

The dairy industry thinks consumers are confused about plant-based milk products. Could they be right?

Readers, maybe it’s time we had the talk. In case you don’t know, products like “soy milk,” “almond milk,” and “cashew milk” do not come from cows. Cows only produce cow milk. No soya, almond, or cashew were forcibly impregnated to have baby soya, almonds, or cashews. THEY ARE PLANTS. And plant-based milks have nothing to do with the baby calf growth fluid that comes from a cow.

I know you know that already, but the dairy industry is arguing that consumers are confused about where plant-based milks come from. Check out this recent tweet, from the National Milk Producers Federation:

 

Utterly ridiculous. (Also, what’s potato milk?)

The dairy industry is so convinced that consumers don’t understand where plant-based milks come from that they actually are pushing a law called THE DAIRY PRIDE ACT, which you can read in all of its ridiculousness here. And incredibly, politicians like Senator Angus King are supporting it – he’s actually a co-sponsor of the bill! How dumb does he think his constituents are? According to an article at thestate.com:

King, an independent, says he is supporting the “Dairy Pride Act,” which he says would require the Food and Drug Administration to issue guidance for nationwide enforcement of “mislabeled imitation dairy products.”

King says it’s an “insult” to Maine’s dairy farmers that non-dairy products are allowed to call themselves milk.

Really, an insult? Actually, what’s insulting is that grown men like Sen. King believe they are entitled to the breast milk of a female cow. A cow who was forced into pregnancy by a farmer, and then had her just-born calf taken away because humans like him think they need her baby’s milk. It’s not like we don’t have options to choose from… I mean, look at those plant-based milks in the tweet image, above. With all those alternatives available, it’s plain to see —  Humans don’t need to drink the milk from another species.
Of course, people like Sen. King don’t actually think that people believe soy milk comes from the same place as cow milk. So what’s really going on?
JMcArthur-weanimals-dairy-milking

Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur.

Look at that! Nothing like some abused cows’ breast milk to have with your morning cereal. This is the sort of industry that people want to protect? Let’s think about it…

The dairy industry spent literally millions of dollars in lobbying last year. According to a graph I found at opensecrets.org:

lobbying

Graph via Niv Sultan, opensecrets.org

OpenSecrets describes how when scandals rock the industry, lobby spending increases. The author writes:

That agriculture interests leaned into their lobbying when they were stricken by scandals may be no coincidence. As Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, wrote to us in an email, “[m]uch of lobbying is crisis driven. When policy problems arise, special interests will double down on their lobbying campaigns.”

As for the dairy industry, specifically?

In 2013, dairy’s top lobbying spenders all heavily targeted what in early 2014 became the most recent version of the farm bill, which contains a dairy subsidy. The International Dairy Foods Association led its fellow groups in the industry by pumping more than $1.7 million into lobbying that year; the following year, with the farm bill done, it spent just $750,000.

With the Dairy Pride Act recently introduced, I wonder how much money the dairy industry will have spent pumping it to legislators. In Wisconsin alone, the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation spent $3 million on lobbying in the years between 2009 and 2016:

The group’s lobbying operation is augmented by campaign contributions and outside election spending, mostly to support Republicans or conservatives for statewide office and the legislature. Since 2000, the Federation has spent more than $1.3 million on outside electioneering activities, like radio and newspaper ads, and about $306,000 on direct contributions to candidates. — “Farm Bureau Has Capital Clout”

Maybe it’s just because I’m paying closer attention to these things, but based on what I’ve been following in the news, the animal agriculture industry has recently been pushing more heavily for laws protecting their interests. Most shockingly, Arkansas governor tossed aside first amendment rights and animal welfare concerns to protect animal abusers. What I want to know is how much did the industry pay to convince legislators of that?

As a result of asinine legislation protecting the animal agriculture industry, humans AND nonhuman animals will suffer; not just from the inherent cruelty of the industry, but there are serious environmental and public health consequences,too. Here’s a quick round-up of relevant legislation that advocates should know about:

  • Wisconsin, referenced above? According to urbanmilwaukee.com, Assembly Bill 105 and Senate Bill 76 “would eliminate state reviews of existing permits for any high-capacity wells when they are repaired, replaced, or sold in real estate transactions. High-capacity wells allow users, which include large farms, food processors, and frac-sand mining operations, to pump up to 100,000 gallons of water a day for irrigation and other needs.”
  • West Virginia wants a “right to farm” law. Read one constituent’s letter on how it’s really a right to harm.
  • North Carolina doesn’t want to support humans hurt by factory farms, and basically deny plaintiffs the right to cover anything but token damages. Read more here, at facingsouth.org. This is absurdly offensive, and I’m not sure why it’s not getting more media attention! Another good breakdown is where two law professors discuss the ramifications of such a law.
  • The animal industry doesn’t want Oregon citizens to have clean air. Read this article at Oregon Live, “The toxic truth behind Oregon’s factory farm stench” by Nathan Donley, senior scientist in the Portland office of the Center of Biological Diversity. (This is actually a good bill, but the industry doesn’t want it to go anywhere.)
  • And over in Tennessee: “Most of Tennessee’s factory farms would no longer need state permits that regulate animal waste disposal, under the terms of a bill before the state legislature.” Wow! I mean, why would any one want a factory farm to need a permit? It’s not like the environment is something precious that we need to protect.

By the way, here’s a full list of the co-sponsors of the Dairy Pride Act – the people who think consumers don’t understand the difference between baby calf growth fluid that came from a cow and plant-based beverages.

Cosponsor Date Cosponsored
Sen. Risch, James E. [R-ID] 03/08/2017
Sen. Stabenow, Debbie [D-MI] 03/21/2017
Sen. King, Angus S., Jr. [I-ME] 03/30/2017

If you live in one of those states, it might be a good idea to reach out to them and let them know what you think about it.

It’s not all bad news in the industry, though. Recently, a 90 year old dairy company in Queens, New York, quit cow milk and is now only producing plant-based milks. Why? Because the company, Elmhurst Dairy, recognized that dairy is a dying industry and that consumers increasingly want to make better choices – not just for their own health, but for ethical and environmental reasons. Elmhurst Dairy CEO Henry Schwartz has said that, “Pasteurized fluid milk has sort of gone out of style” and “we are unable to continue to go on without ongoing losses.”

More businesses in the dairy industry should follow this lead. According to Forbes:

Milk alternatives like soy milk and almond milk have experienced rising sales in recent years, with the global market for plant-based milk reaching sales of $5.8 billion in 2014 and predicted to reach $10.9 billion by 2019 (13.3% CAGR). In contrast to this healthy market growth, traditional milk sales have dropped 11% over the last year.

Good riddance to a dying industry.

factory-farm

photo by Compassion in World Farming (Flickr Creative Commons)

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About The Paw Report

I graduated from St. John's University School of Law in 2012, and am admitted to practice law in New York State. I was a member of the New York City Bar Association's Animal Law Committee for three years. I was born and raised in Rhode Island, but moved to New Mexico when I was 18. After dabbling in film for two years, I graduated from the University of New Mexico with a degree in Anthropology. I've been living in New York City since 2008, and currently reside in Brooklyn with my boyfriend and our two cats. I am a former organizer with Direct Action Everywhere - New York City.

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