Proposed bill cracks down on labeling of dairy alternatives
On Feb. 28, Sens. Jim Risch (R-ID), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Peter Welch (D-VT) introduced bipartisan legislation in an effort to require dairy alternatives made from nuts, seeds, plants and algae no longer be labeled as “milk,” “cheese” or “yogurt.”
The Defending Against Imitations and Replacement of Yogurt, Milk and Cheese to Promote Regular Intake of Dairy Everyday Act, also known as the 2023 Dairy Pride Act, was later introduced into the House by Reps. John Joyce (R-PA), Ann Kuster (D-NH), Mike Simpson (R-ID), Joe Courtney (D-CT), Derrick Van Orden (R-WI) and Angie Craig (D-MN) on March 8.
According to a press release published by Risch on Feb. 28, the bill comes in response to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) guidance proposal, announced the week of Feb. 20, which would allow nut, oat, soy and other non-dairy products to use the name “milk” on their labels.
The press release notes although current FDA regulations define dairy products as those coming from dairy animals, the recent draft guidance would allow plant-based products to continue using dairy terms, despite not containing dairy or having the same nutritional value as dairy.
“The FDA’s anti-dairy draft guidance contradicts their own regulation and definitions, allowing non-dairy products to use dairy names, violating the Administrative Procedure Act and hurting dairy farmers and producers who work tirelessly to ensure their dairy products meet FDA standards and provide the public with nutritious food,” reads the press release.
“It has also led to the proliferation of mislabeled alternative products containing a range of ingredients and nutrients which are often not equivalent to the nutritional content of dairy products,” it continues.
Risch comments, “For too long, plant-based products with completely different nutritional values have wrongly masqueraded as dairy. This dishonest branding is misleading to consumers and a disservice to the dairy farmers who have committed their lives to making milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream and more nutritious products enjoyed every day.”
“It is past time the FDA enforces its own definitions for dairy terminology, prevent imitation products from deceiving consumers and start advocating for the farmers who feed us,” he adds.
The Dairy Pride Act
In response, these senators and representatives came together to introduce the Dairy Pride Act.
According to Risch, this act would require FDA to issue guidance for nationwide enforcement of mislabeled imitation dairy products within 90 days and require the FDA to report to Congress two years after enactment to hold the agency accountable for its enforcement obligations.
The legislation would also nullify any guidance not consistent with dairy standards of identity, including the one proposed the week of Feb. 20.
“Dairy Pride is needed more than ever,” notes National Milk Producers Federation President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Mulhern in a March 20 Farm Progress article. “Now, FDA has offered guidance on the labeling of plant-based beverages, which, while taking steps in the right direction, ultimately doesn’t remedy the problem it seeks to solve.”
Mulhern explains the problem he is referring to is the proven confusion among consumers created when plant-based beverages use dairy terms to make their products appear healthier than they really are. And, while FDA has acknowledged the problem of nutritional confusion, Mulhern doesn’t believe they have come up with a sound solution.
“Dairy Pride solves the problem by requiring FDA to enforce what its own standards of identity state – that ‘milk’ is a term reserved for animal products, and plant-based drinks or beverages shouldn’t be allowed to use dairy terms in their labeling,” he continues.
The proposal has gained support across the dairy industry nationwide.
Darin Von Ruden, president of the Wisconsin Farmers Unions, offers his support, saying, “Misleading labeling has run amok in the American food industry, confusing consumers and putting dairy farmers at a disadvantage. It is time we clear up the confusion around food labels by recognizing ‘milk’ originates from mammals, and items masquerading as such are often not nutritionally interchangeable.”
Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.