Dairy farmer sues FDA for ‘common sense’ skim milk labels

Investigations

At South Mountain Creamery, the chickens make most of the noise, but the cows make most of the money; 550 dairy cows are milked twice a day.

Cows give about 70 pounds, which is about 10 gallons a day,” owner Randy Sowers said. “That’s a lot of milk.”

The farm in Frederick County, Maryland prides itself on being all natural. It sells whole milk, two percent, and one percent as such in Pennsylvania, but Sowers has a sour taste about his skim milk.

“If something don’t make common sense, I got to question it, and this doesn’t make any common sense whatsoever,” he said.

The process of skimming the fat out of milk strips out vitamins A and D. The Food and Drug Administration says farmers must artificially put those vitamins back in to call it skim or nonfat. If they don’t, the regulation says, they must call it imitation, which ruffles Randy’s feathers.

“I don’t want to call it imitation. It confuses the customer,” he said. “It’s taken right out of the cow, but it’s imitation? Silly.”

“This is a vibrant family-owned business that’s getting, frankly, slapped in the face by a nonsensical government regulation,” attorney John DeSantis said.

The Florida-based Institute for Justice has taken up Randy’s cause. In a lawsuit filed in federal court in Harrisburg, it offers compromise labeling like “pure pasteurized skim milk, no vitamins added or replaced, the only ingredient is skim milk” or “pasteurized skim milk, vitamins A & D removed with cream.”

Let Randy label it how he wants, they argue, and let consumers decide what they want.

“It’s legal to sell pure skim milk and the government admits it’s safe to drink pure skim milk. They just object to farmers calling pure skim milk skim milk. They insist that pure skim milk must be labeled imitation skim milk. It’s an issue of free speech,” Justin Pearson of the Institute for Justice said.

In a statement, the FDA explained it has what’s called a “standard of identity.” Basically, customers should have a reasonable expectation that all skim milk meets certain standards. It adds, “nutrients shall be added to the food to restore nutrient levels so that the product is not nutritionally inferior.”

But Randy clucks that his product is superior.

“None of it makes any sense,” he said. “It would be so simple to say OK, just sell your skim milk. It’s not going to hurt anybody. If people want vitamin A and D in it, they’ll go someplace and buy where it has A and D in it.”

“Business owners have the right to tell the truth and the government does not have the power to change the dictionary,” Pearson said.

The FDA wouldn’t comment on the lawsuit, but its legal response is due in the next few weeks.

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