‘Tennessee milk’ joins ‘Tennessee whiskey’ as legislature-approved marketing label

The Legislature has given final approval to a bill authorizing the use of the label “local Tennessee milk” in marketing dairy products, reports the Johnson City Press.  A milk marketing company that recently cancelled contracts with East Tennessee milk producers says it’s reviewing ramifications of the measure.

The bill (HB2153) passed unanimously in both the House and Senate on Wednesday with Rep. David Hawk (R-Greeneville) and Sen. Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains) as lead sponsors.

(T)he new law states, “Any milk sold in this state may be labeled as ‘Local Tennessee Milk’, or a statement that indicates the milk is Tennessee milk, if the milk contains only milk produced in this state.”

… “It’s just saying we have so many families that are so deeply tied to the dairy industry that we want end consumers to know that their milk originated in Tennessee. And this is a way to do that through this new law,” Hawk said.

The legislation’s passage comes over a month after national dairy company Dean Foods announced it was terminating its purchasing contracts with more than 100 dairy farmers nationwide, including three in Greeneville and two in Morristown.

“Concern about losing these milk contracts is on every dairy farmer’s mind, not only in East Tennessee, but the fear is moving across Tennessee that ‘we may be next’ in other parts of the state,” Hawk said.

A Dean Foods spokesman said the company regretted making the decision to terminate the contracts, but cited market conditions, such as a surplus in milk production and a decline in milk consumption, as contributing factors.

“This legislation just passed today so I can’t speculate on what we plan to do,” Dean Foods spokesman Reace Smith said. “As a company who proudly sells Tennessee milk to Tennessee consumers, we are looking into what it will mean for us.”

Ashlan Holland with Holly Knoll Farms was among those who received letters in February stating Dean Foods would no longer buy her family’s milk after May 31.

While the family is still hoping to find another buyer for their milk before the contract is terminated, Holland has met with lawmakers and specifically advocated for certified labels highlighting milk produced in Tennessee.

Note: The legislature has long authorized labeling state-produced spirits as ‘Tennessee whiskey,’ but there have been disputes over the legal definition of that label. The Tennessee milk bill doesn’t get into definitions and, in fact, Niceley was questioned on the Senate floor as to whether buttermilk was included. He responded that, even though not mentioned, it is the ‘legislative intent’ that buttermilk can be labeled Tennessee buttermilk.

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