Sometimes government’s dishonesty, incompetence, wastefulness, and misguided nannyism combine to make a perfectly ridiculous story. Today’s comes to us from Florida, where the Ocheesee Creamery is being forced to dump gallons upon gallons of good, natural skim milk because the state is requiring the business to label its good, natural skim milk “imitation” because they haven’t added anything to it.
Paul and Mary Lou Wesselhoeft have been fighting this in federal court with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, which had formerly allowed them to sell their skim milk while calling it skim milk. No one seemed confused by this except the state government, which changed its requirements.
The Institute for Justice is helping the Wesselhoefts take on the state, arguing they should not be prohibited from telling the truth about their product.
DACS has decided what is commonly known as skim milk—whole milk with the cream skimmed off—cannot be called “skim milk” unless it is artificially injected with vitamin A. DACS has demanded that Mary Lou either inject vitamin A before she can call it skim milk, or use a confusing and misleading label that calls it something it is not: Non-Grade ‘A’ Milk Product, Natural Milk Vitamins Removed. Mary Lou suggested other labels that would ensure customers her skim milk is only pasteurized skim milk, not just a “milk product,” but DACS rejected each one.
As the AP reports, the judge in the case seems confused by the government’s position, not the act of calling skim milk skim milk:
Webster’s dictionary defines skim milk as simply “milk from which cream has been removed,” with no mention of added vitamins. But Department lawyer Ashley Davis told a judge consumers expect whole milk and skim milk to have the same nutritional value and that the Wesselhoefts’ skim milk is nutritionally inferior because vitamins are removed when the milk fat is removed.
“Ocheessee’s product is imitating — literally imitating — skim milk,” Davis said.
Judge Robert Hinkle said he’s not so sure consumers expect skim milk to have the same nutritional value as whole milk.
“You know something’s been removed in order to make it skim milk,” he said.
Hinkle also seemed to have problems with the word imitation.
“It’s hard to call this imitation milk. It came right out of the cow,” Hinkle said. “Anyone who reads imitation skim milk would think it didn’t come out of a cow.”
I’m with Hinkle. Doesn’t it seem like common knowledge that skim milk is whole milk with a bunch of delicious fat removed (I have my own issues with allowing skim milk to be called milk, but it’s a personal peeve that need not be adjudicated by the state, and I digress)? We all understand they’re not the same product, nutritionally, and that’s precisely why some people choose skim over whole.
The Wesselhoeft refuse to add extra stuff to their all-natural product because the tiny creamery got into business to sell and all-natural product. Their commitment to natural products was just fine with consumers, but now the government’s actions a threatening this small business and the livelihoods of those who work there:
The dairy was selling 200 to 300 gallons of skim milk a week at $5 a gallon before the state ordered them to relabel it or stop selling it.
Communities lose jobs, entrepreneurs lose dreams, and consumers lose great products for the silliest of reasons. The story of the Wesselhoefts reminded me of the closing of Il Mondo Vecchio in Colorado in 2012— an “Old-World-style salumeria” similarly dedicated to natural processes. The FDA was having none of that, requiring that these sausage-makers, adored by Denver foodies, add nitrates, nitrites and preservatives to their meats.
“In August, the USDA imposed additional requirements on Il Mondo Vecchio’s production methods. After two months of sharing information and collaboration back and forth between Il Mondo Vecchio and the USDA as well as various attempts to modify the production methods,” the owners announced, “Il Mondo Vecchio has determined that the impact of the regulatory requirements on dry cured sausage products was detrimental to the quality of the product and therefore, Mark and Gennaro are forced to close the[ir] doors.”
DeNittis’ sausage never made anyone sick, and the USDA didn’t even take issue with its safety— only the process by which it was produced, under regulations set up for the kinds of large-scale operations for which many Americans enjoy having alternatives. Alternatives like Il Mondo Vecchio and Ocheesee Creamery, which fight an uphill battle to exist in the first place, as all small businesses do, and then run the risk of being quickly and capriciously crushed by a change of mood or interpretation by the state. And, we all lose.
DeNittis went on to found the Rocky Mountain Institute of Meat, which offers butchering and curing courses, and as recently as 2014 was talking about challenging the USDA’s regulations to allow for his kind of work. I hope he succeeds but if common sense prevailed in the first place, he wouldn’t need to shut down a successful business and expend three years going through the USDA’s challenge process. Here’s DeNittis talking in 2014 about saying goodbye to his business, and the attitude he encountered from the feds:
You closed Il Mondo Vecchio a year and a half ago. What do you miss most about it? I miss showing up at the plant at five-thirty in the morning with my production manager Owen, who I miss tremendously, and getting ready for the day. And I used to have a Lavazza machine in the office, a Lavazza pod espresso machine. And I’d have about four to five double espressos between five-thirty and six as we’d set up for the day to produce anywhere from 500 to 2500 pounds. We’d have various music playing at the cutting table as we would just slam through pork butts to make salami. Literally, I could cut about 250 pounds of boned pork butts in about 12 minutes.
What’s one thing you totally don’t miss about it? The lack of… How do I say this without putting it negatively? The lack of openness and true understanding of the meat production process. I was playing by the rulebook. My frustration came in that every time I’d point out that we were following this regulation or that one, all I would get really was head shaking. At the same time, I have respect and understand the work of the USDA. I just think that the interpretations of the regulations are complex and always changing.