Coke-Fairlife_0The California dairy industry, the country’s largest, is in a tizzy about Coca Cola’s new ultra-processed milk product, known as Fairlife. It’s pitched as “better milk” that commands premium prices because it goes through special processing to reduce lactose and increase protein.

While the stated objection to regulators by a California processed-milk group is that Fairlife isn’t necessarily processed properly, the real concern seems to be about the competitive threat posed by Fairlife.

The California tussle began last April, when Fairlife filed a petition with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, seeking two “temporary standards” that would accommodate two varieties of its specially processed milk—a low-fat variety and a flavored low-fat variety. Milk must conform to certain standards covering the amount of fat, protein, and other nutrients contained in the milk.

In its April 20 petition, Fairlife essentially confessed that Fairlife goes through so much processing that it no longer meets certain standards required of commercial milk. It said its “reduced fat ultra-fitered milk” “Is a different product and does not fall within the standard set forth in the Food & Agricultural Code section 38211 because it does not contain 10% or more of milk solids not fat and because it goes through a unique fractionation and recombination process that separates milk into its component parts and then recombines those components in different proportions that results in a milk product with less lactose and more protein than standard reduced fat milk.”

In its proposal for “flavored reduced fat ultra-filtered milk”, it explained that the milk “is produced by the fractionation and filtration of fluid raw milk into fat, proteins, lactose, minerals and water. The different fractions of fluid raw milk are then recombined to obtain reduced fat ultra-filtered milk that contains not less than 1.9 percent milkfat, not more than 2.1 percent milk fat, not less than 3.7 percent protein, not less than 0.11 percent calcium, not less than 0.7 percent ash, and not more than 3.85 percent lactose. The lactose may be hydrolyzed. Characterizing flavoring ingredients are then added.”

Just like nature intended, right?

Last week, the California Dairy Campaign, an organization of dairy owners, asked the CDFA to refuse to grant Fairlife the “temporary standards.” In a letter, its executive director, Lynne McBride, stated: “We oppose the petition because the Fairlife reduced fat ultra-filtered milk products included in the petition do not meet the California fluid milk fortification standards.” Fortification standards have to do with powdered milk added back into processed milk to give it more nutrition.

But the California Dairy Campaign indicated concern about competition, as well. “We further have grave concerns about the claims on Fairlife products that these products are ‘better milk.’ We consider UF milk to be a product made from milk and in no way better than milk.”

Another California dairy group, the Milk Producers Council, made up of processors, endorsed the Fairlife request, saying its members wanted to learn from Coke/Fairlife if it may have found a way to revived lagging pasteurized milk sales. With the temporary standards, “our industry will have an opportunity to see first- hand whether these high-protein, low-lactose fluid milk products attract new consumers to our market, and any impact that may or may not have on the sales of other fluid milk products,” its general manager, Robert Vandenheuvel stated.

So which processed milk is the best processed milk? Or the worst? Tens of millions of dollars hang in the balance as the battle of the processors threatens to stub Coke’s toe.

Fairlife’s introduction late last year touched off a storm of criticism from natural food producers and observers. One well done analysis came from Bethany, the blogger at fast-growing southern California farm Primal Pastures, who said that “it doesn’t strike me as fair to manipulate consumers with good intentions into buying something that they think is healthy (when it ‘s really anything but)–especially at twice the price of regular milk!”
If nothing else, the battle of the processors will help consumers appreciate just how much processing goes on in nearly all milk. Sure makes me appreciate my real milk.