Kentucky Politics

Lawmakers say a bill proposing to narrow the definition of milk will help Kentucky’s struggling dairy industry.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Senator Matt Castlen, defines milk as “lacteal secretion” from hooved mammals including cows, horses, goats and reindeer. It bans labeling products as milk that do not meet the new definition. Castlen said the bill will help both the industry and consumers.

“It’s so important that we do everything we can to help [dairy farms], because it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, Democrat or Republican, we all come to the table and we eat,” Castlen said. “But this bill, more importantly than even that, is letting the consumer know what’s in the product that they’re consuming.”

The bill would effectively ban any soy milk marketed by that name. Kentucky Soybean Board and Association Spokesperson Rae Wagoner said state soybean farmers are fully supportive of the dairy industry and animal agriculture.

“We are also glad that non-dairy alternatives (such as those made from soy) are available as an alternative for those who may be lactose intolerant and cannot enjoy milk,” Wagoner said in a statement. 

Dairy farms both in Kentucky and across the nation have struggled in recent years due to a drop in milk prices and rising production costs. The situation is so dreary that the nation’s largest dairy producer filed for bankruptcy late last year and at least one co-op attached suicide prevention information with farmers’ milk checks.

Dairy farmer Carl Chaney said times are hard, but he is unsure if lawmakers can fix things. Chaney’s family owns Chaney’s Dairy Barn in Bowling Green, Kentucky; he said they avoided financial disaster by opening an ice cream store 16 years ago and charging for tours. Chaney said he has high hopes for the industry and that milk prices are starting to rebound, but his fellow farmers still struggle. 

“It’s hard. We’re selling milk today for the same price we sold milk 30 years ago,” Chaney said. “I’d like to see automobile manufacturers build cars today and sell those cars for what they were selling them for 30 years ago … how long would they stay in business?”

Castlen’s dairy bill was introduced days after Kentucky’s legislative session started. It has not moved since it was assigned to the Senate Agriculture committee on January 13