OKLAHOMA CITY — A big, cold glass of milk usually beckons to be gulped.
But at the state Capitol these days, some lawmakers are crying over the spilled milk-based alternatives.
Lawmakers are considering banning popular alternatives — like soy, cashew, coconut and almond — nearly two decades after declaring milk the official state drink.
State Rep. Jim Grego, R-Wilburton, said the only milk product that should be on Oklahoma shelves are ones produced by cows, goats or other hooved mammals like yaks, water buffalo, reindeer, moose, horses and donkeys.
“It’s just an effort to help our dairy farmers,” he said. “Milk is a wholesome word. People equate it with healthy living.”
No other products should bear the “milk” moniker.
Grego would not answer a question about what human breast milk should be called under his legislation. Produced by non-hooved mammals, it would technically be impacted, too.
Any non-hooved products continually mislabeled as milk will be banned Nov. 1 in Oklahoma under House Bill 2994.
Grego said he’s hopeful that if enough states embrace similar legislation, it will force federal officials to take a closer look at better regulating milk branding.
He said manufacturers would have to change their labeling to serve Oklahoma consumers. Soy milk could instead be rebranded as “soy extract” and continue to be sold in the state, he said.
“The products will still be out there,” he said. “I don’t see them going away, but they won’t be called milk. I don’t see a single product going away.”
State Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore, though, was skeptical that companies would relabel their products for Oklahoma, which has a population of about four million people.
He said Oklahomans should be able to choose what they consume.
“It just seems like something we’ll spend time on when we have more important things to do,” McBride said.
Danone North America, which is the parent company of plant-based and dairy brands like Silk, So Delicious, Horizon Organic, Dannon and Oikos, said it believes people deserve to have options and make informed decisions about the products they purchase.
In many cases, people choose both dairy and plant-based products, the company noted in a statement.
“We believe people understand the difference between dairy milk and plant-based choices, and we do not believe further labeling standards are necessary, whether they are government or industry proposed,” the company. “Today, we communicate on our products in a way that avoids confusion between dairy and plant-based, making clear references to ‘dairy,’ ‘dairy-free’ or ‘plant-based alternative’ as appropriate.”
Cynthia Armstrong said her household serves both traditional and soy milk.
Armstrong, the senior state director for the Humane Society of the United States, said her group has no position on the legislation, but supports consumer choice and education.
She said the new food fight represents an evolving world as consumers — some battling food allergies or intolerances — look for alternatives and regulators try to figure out what to call things.
“I think people are not that dumb to buy a carton of soy milk and think it came from a cow,” she said. “The consumers are pretty smart.”
The state Department of Agriculture, which will be tasked with implementing the ban should the legislation get signed into law, has no position either, said JanLee Rowlett, the agency’s legislative liaison.
“Our role as a department is to help make sure all farmers and ranchers in Oklahoma are successful and have access to markets,” she said.
Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.