Dairy industry opposing changes to yogurt standards

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Food and Drug Administration is considering a proposal that would allow producers to reduce the amount of milk in yogurt, and that worries Midwestern dairy farmers who are already struggling.

The National Yogurt Association petitioned for the rule that would allow the use of ingredients such as milk protein concentrates. That could take the place of milk, said Rob Byrne, vice president of regulatory affairs at the National Milk Producers Federation.

"We're reviewing the proposed rule to ensure that any changes to the yogurt standards will not negatively impact dairy producers in the U.S.," Byrne said. "Our initial review indicates that the changes will allow more ingredients to displace domestic milk solids, which would be objectionable to U.S. dairy producers."

Milk protein concentrates, known as MPCs, are the byproduct of milk production. Unlike most dairy products, they face very few import restrictions into the U.S. market, and they are generally not manufactured in the United States.

Bob Garfield, senior vice president for regulatory affairs at the National Yogurt Association, said the industry has no intention of using MPCs, but acknowledged the new standard would allo it.


Even if MPCs were used, he said, the amounts would be insignificant, because the new standards call for a minimum of 51 percent Grade A dairy products, which excludes MPCs. Another 35 percent would be used for products like flavoring and sweeteners.

"What we're talking about is a very small amount that could be used," Garfield said. "If they were used, it would be a minuscule amount. I don't understand why they're so upset."

A similar product, whey protein concentrate, is already allowed under the current standard, but could be used at different levels under the new standard. Garfield said this product, too, would be used in very small amounts.

"I was really surprised by the Milk Producers' statement," Garfield said. "We're willing to work with them and see what the problems are."

The dairy industry, facing the lowest milk prices in 25 years, is sensitive to any developments that could take a further toll on its farmers.

From 1992 to the end of 2001, the number of dairy farmers decreased by 40,000, to just under 100,000, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In Minnesota since 1990, the state has lost 9,000 dairy farmers, 33 percent of its dairy herds and 12 milk processors closed or consolidated.

The FDA is reviewing the petition, an FDA official said.

Garfield said the yogurt industry sought the changes because the 20-year-old current standard is outdated.


"There are a number of innovative ways that yogurt manufacturers can come up with new ingredients to supplement the product," Garfield said. "They have to petition each time to make changes. The new (proposed) standard would allow yogurt manufacturers to update the product as the market demands."

One of the other major changes is that yogurt would have to have a minimum level of live and active cultures, which help people who are lactose intolerant to digest dairy.

"There is no designation in the current standard for live cultures that need to be used," Garfield said. "One of the things that we write into the (new) standards is a minimum amount of cultures. This is for the benefit of the consumers."

The current standard calls for live cultures to be included, but doesn't specify the amount.

Bob Waldron, president of Yoplait, a brand of Golden Valley, Minn.-based General Mills, stressed that the live cultures standard was the main reason for the industry's proposal.

"We felt a standard of identity was needed to protect the consumer perception that yogurt has live and active cultures," Waldron said. He said he was optimistic the industry could ease the dairy industry's concerns about other aspects of the proposal.


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