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Lawmaker Encourages More Milk Consumption

Assemblyman Billy Jones thinks more New York state should do more to encourage people to drink milk, not less.

That’s why Jones, D-Plattsburgh, vehemently disagrees with a proposal to ban flavored milk in New York City’s 1,200 schools. During a Joint Legislative Public Hearing on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed 2020-21 state budget, several state legislators joined Jones in pitching ideas and programs as well as asking questions about issues in the state’s agriculture industry. Richard Ball, state agriculture commissioner, told Jones state officials are working to showcase New York-produced products once a week in New York City schools and are working to increase the share of new New York products, particularly dairy, in all New York schools through programs like the Farm to Table program and the No Student Goes Hungry Program.

“We’re going to put a pilot program out about getting rid of the half pints we grew up with,” Ball said. “There’s very little imagination in the creation of that half-pint. It looks very much the same as it did when you were in school. We’re looking at bulk milk containers, keeping it colder, keeping it fresher and saving money for the schools, things like that. School milk and getting more school milk, not less. We’ve seen a decline in fluid milk consumption. I think that’s something we’re going to continue to look at.”

While the flavored milk ban is not a new idea, Jones pushed back hard on the idea during Monday’s hearing.

“I can name 1,000 things that are worse for our children than flavored milk,” Jones said. “I cannot see that as a good thing, and certainly it’s not a good thing for the dairy industry. And, chocolate milk is actually good for our kids.”

Jones also wanted to know what the governor’s budget proposal does to help dairy farmers, particularly in light of the Farm Laborer’s Fair Labor Practices Act that brings the right to unionize to farmworkers and the implementation of overtime pay after 60 hours of work. Ball said one way to help farmers is ratification and implementation of the USMCA trade agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico. Ball said in the past, Canada has raised issues with Class 6 and Class 7 milk products. Class 7 milk products include skim milk components, milk protein concentrates and skim milk powder used to process dairy products.

Canada created Class 7 to price milk ingredients, a move that Americans and other countries said priced Class 7 dairy out of the Canadian market and hurt American farmers. Ball said that meant $60 million of milk over 300 trailer loads that had been shipped to Canada from New York farmers were no longer being purchased. President Donald Trump signed the USMCA trade agreement on Wednesday.

Ball also said it is important to make sure the state is updating the milk processing industry throughout the state.

“We continue to work with Empire State Development on our processing plants,” Ball said. “We’re doign a good job with cheese, we’re doing a good job with yogurt, we’re doing a good job with cottage cheese, etc. So as our plants age in New York, we need to continue to upgrade them and keep them competitive. Those are things we look at with the Dairy Promotion Board and our partners at Empire State Development. We’ve been able to put $50 million into dairy plants in the last 10 years.”

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