Virginia dairy industry losing ground to ‘nut juices’

milk dairyConsumers can help bolster the declining Virginia dairy industry by purchasing local milk and milk products.

“Buy cow milk, not nut juices,” advised Sarah Weaver Sharpe, a Virginia Cooperative Extension agent in Greene County. Local foods are one of Sharpe’s specialties, and she tries to educate consumers on the importance of understanding the mislabeling of milk. “If people knew the nutritional value of cow milk versus nut milk—one ingredient versus a dozen or more—they would buy cow milk.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is taking public comments on regulations governing how dairy and non-dairy products, like almond “milk” are labeled. The FDA is studying the wide variety of plant-based foods that are being positioned in the marketplace as substitutes for standardized dairy products.

Many plant-based foods use traditional dairy terms in the name of the product, such as milk, yogurt and cheese. Those alternative products, however, are not the food that has been standardized under the 1938 Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act with the name “milk.”

“Americans have learned that milk is a good source of proteins and nutrients, and until there were plant-based options available they were buying and drinking real milk,” noted Tony Banks, senior assistant director of agriculture, development and innovation for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “Mislabeling of non-dairy products is confusing consumers, who are turning away from traditional milk purchases, which is hurting our state’s dairy farmers.”

Sharpe said she recently spoke with a vet who predicted 25 percent of Virginia dairies will go out of business in the next year or so. “Central Virginia dairies are going out of business left and right,” she noted.

“The dairy industry is in really, really, really bad shape right now,” Sharpe noted. “Prices farmers are getting for milk can’t cover their bills right now.

”In addition to buying more cow milk products like cheese and ice cream, consumers can buy local milk.

To find out if milk came from Virginia farms, Sharpe said, look for the code on milk jugs., and type in the code to find out where it was processed. “If it starts with a 51, it’s processed in Virginia. If the milk is processed in Virginia, it’s a really good chance it came from Virginia.”

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