Carolyn Partridge: Notes from Montpelier: Defining milk; Farm to Plate investment; codifying reproductive rights

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One of the topics the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee has been studying is, believe it or not, the definition of milk. Folks in the dairy industry have been concerned because of the use of the word "milk" for beverages made from soy, nuts, seeds, and other plants. For a funny, tongue-in-cheek three minutes, check out the YouTube video called "Nut Milking Exposed".

The serious concern is that these products are misbranded and, hence, misleading. Consumers may not understand that these so-called "milks" don't have the same nutrient content that milk from dairy animals does. The bill that was introduced defines milk as "the pure lacteal secretion of hooved animals." It then goes on to define the standards that need to be met by cows', goats', sheep's and water buffalo's milk, in terms of milk fat and nonfat milk solids.

Regarding nutrients, cow's milk scores highest for protein, carbohydrates, and naturally-occurring calcium. Beth Bradley, PhD., from the UVM Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences, provided us with some interesting information regarding the energy and nutrients in one cup of milk and milk alternatives. You can see her testimony on our website.

Quoting from the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report (https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/), "Most of the milk alternatives are fortified with calcium, so similar amounts of calcium can be obtained from fortified rice, soy and almond milks, and fortified juices, but absorption of calcium is less efficient from plant beverages (Heaney, 2000). Magnesium intake also is comparable from plant-based milk alternatives. However, vitamin D and potassium amounts vary across these milk alternatives (see Appendix E-3.6: Dairy Group and Alternatives, Table 3). Calorie levels also are higher for most of the plant-based alternative milk products for a given calcium intake level. In other words, to obtain a comparable amount of calcium as one cup equivalent for non-fat fluid milk, the portion size required to meet the calcium intake need results in higher energy intake (see Appendix E-3.6: Dairy Group and Alternatives, Table 4)."

None of this is meant to slam beverages made from plants but there is a sense that they are mislabeled and, in fact, on a federal level they are, so the problem should be solved by them. We took testimony from a representative for the Grocers' Association that changing packaging would be difficult, but an internet search showed that the same products sold in Canada are properly labeled. I suspect our committee, rather than passing legislation, will write a letter to the US Food and Drug Administration, with copies sent to our federal delegation, asking them to remedy this situation.

Another topic our committee has dived into is the reauthorization of the Farm to Plate (F2P) Investment Program.

Ellen Kahler, Executive Director of Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund (www.vsjf.org), and Jake Claro, Vermont Farm to Plate Program Director, briefed us on the latest information and it is very encouraging. The Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund is a non-profit organization that administers the Farm to Plate Investment Program and coordinates the Farm to Plate Network's implementation of Vermont's food system plan.

In 2009, the Legislature created the Farm to Plate Investment Fund with a major goal to strengthen Vermont's farm and food system.

An 18-month engagement process ensued with many stakeholders' meetings around the state. Folks from all areas of farm and food sectors, including food production businesses, educational institutions, specialty food producers, capital providers, and farmers, were encouraged to participate.

In 2011, the Strategic Plan was released with 25 food system goals and some overall goals/ projections. It was estimated that if we could increase the consumption of Vermont-produced food from 5 percent to 10 percent in ten years, we could increase economic output and create 1,700 jobs (Ellen and I debate whether it was 1,500 or 1,700 jobs but we'll go with what Ellen remembers!).

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After seven years of implementation, the numbers are impressive. We have seen a 12.9 percent increase in the consumption of Vermont-produced food, far outstripping the goal of a 10 percent increase in 10 years and the creation of 6,559 net new jobs and 742 net new farms and businesses in the same period of time.

Another encouraging indication is that food insecurity has decreased from 13.8 percent to 9.8 percent. F2P has proven that food sector and agricultural development is economic development.

For many of us, reauthorization of F2P is a no-brainer. A real plus for making the argument to reauthorize is that F2P has always been assessed by Results-Based Accountability, which is something the Legislature has increasingly employed as we determine the value of the programs we offer. We have asked Ellen Kahler and Jake Claro for any changes that they would propose, and we will be considering them as we move forward.

This coming week, H.57, a bill regarding reproductive rights, will be on the Floor of the House for consideration.

The statement of purpose says, "This bill proposes to recognize as a fundamental right the freedom of reproductive choice and to prohibit public entities from interfering with or restricting the right of an individual to terminate the individual's pregnancy." The reason many of us feel that this bill is even necessary, has to do with the situation on a federal level and the current make-up of the U.S. Supreme Court.

It seems that there is some inaccurate information being disseminated so this might be a good moment to clarify what H.57 does and does not do as changes have been made to the original draft that many of us signed on to.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, H.57 would neither enhance nor restrict current access to abortion in Vermont. Rather, it codifies the current legal status of abortion in Vermont — it does not make a policy change.

It does not change by whom or when abortions will be performed, nor change the standard of care. No abortion providers in Vermont perform elective abortions in the third trimester. H.57 does not allow for the possibility of future partial-birth or full-birth terminations because they are specifically prohibited by the 2003 "Partial Birth Abortion Act, which is federal law.

While I completely respect people's religious and philosophical positions on this issue, I believe that women should have a right to make their own choices about their reproductive health in consultation with their health care providers. I trust women to make those decisions.

State Rep. Carolyn Partridge , D-Windham-3, welcomes emails at cpartridge@leg.state.vt.us. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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