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Bill Beefs Up Skim Milk - At A Price Cost Could Hit $1 Billion, Bill’s Critics Charge

Milk drinkers could end up with extra ingredients in each glassful - and paying more for them - under an overhaul of dairy programs making its way through Congress.

A gallon of low-fat milk would cost manufacturers 15 cents more to produce because of extra dairy solids required by the measure, the Agriculture Department says, adding that consumers would probably bear the brunt. Other cost estimates are lower.

Prices could rise even higher because of other changes, the department added. As a result, the bill would raise the cost of food stamps, school lunches and other federal feeding programs by more than $1 billion over seven years, the department says.

The largest group representing dairy farmers counters that the proposal would improve the appeal of low-fat and nonfat milks, while adding even more healthful ingredients to milk than are already there. The group, the National Milk Producers Federation, says the requirement will add a few pennies at most to the cost of a gallon.

The disagreement stems from a requirement in legislation approved by the House Agriculture Committee last week that all drinking milk nationwide follow the higher California standard for nonfat dairy solids in milk. The requirement is included in a larger overhaul of farm programs headed for a full House vote at the end of this month.

Milk is made of fat, water and nonfat solids, consisting largely of protein, calcium and lactose. The federal standard now is 8.25 percent for nonfat solids. The dairy industry says milk naturally has a higher content reflected in the California standard, closer to 8.7 percent, which falls during extremely hot weather.

When you account for fat - about 3.5 percent of milk solids - whole milk is about 12 percent solids.

The bill would require all reduced-fat milk but skim to have 12 percent overall solids. Skim would have 9 percent, compared with 8.25 percent by federal standards. Even whole milk would have to add some nonfat solids, about half a percent.

What that means is that dairy farmers would use condensed fresh milk or powdered milk to make up for the lost fat.

Skim milk, 2 percent and 1 percent milk would wind up with more nonfat solids than whole milk has.

“But you’re getting more nutrition and probably a better-tasting product,” said James C. Barr, chief executive officer of the milk producers group, which represents dairy farmers’ co-operatives. “It’s not blue, it’s not watery, and it’s a more full-bodied milk even though it doesn’t have any fat in it.”

At most, shoppers will pay 5 cents or 7 cents additional for a gallon of milk, he said Monday, “if all the costs were transferred back to the consumer. That’s a big if.”

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