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By Cassie Slane
The old question "Do you have milk?" Has a complicated answer these days, because everything depends on what you mean by "milk".
Consumers may soon be faced with confusion in the dairy aisle by wondering if the milk they drink comes from a cow – or was made in a laboratory.
Perfect Day Foods is a company that creates an alternative to synthetic milk. It resembles milk in that it consists of casein and whey, the proteins found in milk. However, a cow has never been used to make his product. Instead, the animal-free dairy product is made in a laboratory using genetically modified yeast programmed with DNA to produce the same proteins as cow's milk.
Perfect Day Foods, from Silicon Valley, says its animal-free milk is better for the environment and healthier than cow's milk because it is lactose-free, hormone-free, antibiotic-free, gluten-free and cholesterol-free. The company also claims that the product tastes more like milk than other herbal milk substitutes. In addition, its overall environmental impact is significantly lower than that of conventionally produced milk, according to a preliminary report from the University of West England.
While some vegan consumers may be excited about new alternatives coming to the market, dairy farmers are not. Many small dairy farmers fear that this new "fake milk" will confuse consumers and could discourage them because they are already threatened with extinction due to an oversupply of milk, increased competition from dairy products to herbal and industrial agriculture.
The US dairy industry has recently been under extreme pressure and has seen a decline in sales since 2014, which is expected to continue until 2020, according to a Mintel report. As a result, dairy farms closed in record numbers. By 1970, there were nearly 650,000 dairy farms in the United States, but there were only 40,219 left by the end of 2017, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
Mike Eby, president of the National Dairy Producers Organization and seventh generation milk producer, was forced to sell his herd of 60 dairy cows two years ago because, like many others, he could not compete with industrial agriculture and the continued decline of the market. price of milk. He is concerned that Perfect Day's product is so similar to milk composition that it could look and be labeled as milk produced by a cow, which would complicate the consumer's task.
"Yes [processors] manage to consider Perfect Day as milk, they [could] use Perfect Day to make ice cream, yogurt or cheese, "said Eby. And the worst part is that it would not be labeled as such. Nobody knows the difference and actually claims that there is no scientific difference. "
Currently, the Food and Drug Administration allows manufacturers of almond milk, soy milk and rice milk to label their products under the name of "milk". In countries such as England and Canada, where they are much more protective of dairy production, the products herbal products are not allowed to use the word "milk" and must use alternatives such than "drink" or "drink". Many US dairy farmers are fighting the FDA to enforce the definition of milk as "milk secretion" produced by the "integral". treats one or more healthy cows. Although the FDA definition is in place, it has never applied it.
"It seems that the FDA is not very favorable to farmers; they are more user-friendly for processors, "Eby said. "So if history is our guide, look no further and see how they did not take care of the word" milk "and allowed it to be exploited. So, why would anyone think that it's different? "
This week, Perfect Day Foods announced it raised $ 34.75 million, bringing its total fundraising to $ 60 million. The company received $ 24.7 million in investments last year, making it one of the most subsidized startups in the food technology sector. Lab meat companies such as Memphis Meats and Future Meat Technologies have attracted the interest of billionaire investors such as Bill Gates and Richard Branson, as well as food giants, Tyson Foods and Cargill. .
Kate Krueger, research director at New Harvest, a non-profit organization specializing in cell farming, said that there are significant benefits to manufacturing food in the laboratory.
"When you do something in a lab, you have a lot more control over what's in there," Krueger told NBC News. "So it means you make it healthier, you can make it more delicious, you can make it different; different from what you can produce otherwise. "
However, many farmers are reluctant to entrust US food to investors in Silicon Valley rather than to Lancaster County farmers.
"I think it's more important to make money than anything else," said Lorraine Lewandrowski, a lawyer specializing in agricultural law, who represents farmers in New York and Pennsylvania. "I do not see them plunging their hearts and souls into land or people for generations trying to hang onto a farm or people who are small farmers working with their community. They are volunteer firefighters, they are part of the board of education, they are engaged in a field. I do not see that with these guys. They will go wherever the money is. "
In addition to typical dairy products, Perfect Day's dairy-free dairy proteins could also end up in many more products after the company has partnered with Archer Daniels Midland, one of the largest ingredient suppliers. in the world.
"Instead of Perfect Day, call it Perfect Storm," said Eby. "Because that's exactly what happened to the dairy industry, and it happens at the worst possible time."