Dairy Farm Vs. FDA: Maryland Dairy Farmer Stands Up for Milk Labeling

Randy Sowers - FDA Lawsuit
Karen and Randy Sowers are pitting themselves against the government so they can market skim milk labeled all-natural and not be forced to include additional vitamin A and D. ( Wyatt Bechtel )

Maryland dairy farmer Randy Sowers has butted heads with the government before—and won. The first time it was for pipe he placed in a pasture to help control erosion. Government officials claimed the pipe had replaced a natural stream, but it was actually a runoff ditch. Sowers eventually was able to keep the pipe in the ground.

A bigger run-in with the government happened when the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) seized $60,000 in February 2012 for a violation of structuring laws. With the help of the Institute for Justice, Sowers’ money was returned, a rare win against the IRS.

Sowers next battle with the government involves him, his wife, Karen, and the Institute for Justice suing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over labeling of skim milk. 

Skim Milk Definition

The Sowers family has been milking cows since 1981. In 2001, they started South Mountain Creamery, an on-farm business that bottles and sells milk, near Middletown, Md.

Milk comes from the family’s 550-cow herd and is sold in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. The creamery business has grown to include delivery of a number of dairy products, beef and farm fresh eggs, along with locally grown fruits and vegetables.

“We started bottling milk 17 years ago and we wanted to sell an all-natural product,” Sowers says of the skim milk. “We learned pretty quick we couldn’t do what we wanted to do, especially with our modified fat milk because the FDA said we had to put vitamin A and D in that milk to make it actually milk.”

Under FDA regulations skim milk has to be labeled as “imitation skim milk” or “imitation milk product” if it does not have vitamin A and D added. South Mountain Creamery had attempted to sell all-natural skim milk across state lines into Pennsylvania and state officials agreed with the dairy’s definition of skim milk. The FDA, on the other hand, does not see it the same way when there are no added vitamins.

For the past 17 years, the creamery has added both vitamin A and D to its milk to stay within federal regulations so it could be sold across state lines.

“If people want to take vitamin A and D then go take a pill. It shouldn’t be up to the dairy industry to put those vitamins in milk,” Sowers says. 

Hope From Precedence

The case for labeling as all-natural skim milk without adding vitamin A and D has precedence with the Institute for Justice winning a similar case in 2017 for a Florida dairy at the local level. Florida dairy farmer Mary Lou Wesselhoeft, owner of Ocheesee Creamery, won her lawsuit against the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services when the state would not allow her to label an all-natural skim milk as “skim milk.”

The Institute for Justice believes the recent win in Florida and other free speech challenges made against the FDA should place a precedent for what should result in a win for South Mountain Creamery and the Sowers family.

“I think people should be interested in whether we win or lose,” Sowers says. “Because then they can choose what they want. They can go to the store and buy milk that says all-natural skim milk or they can buy milk that says vitamin A and D added.”

For more on the case watch the video above with details from Randy Sowers or read the following story: