I applaud U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., for standing up for Wisconsin dairy farmers and introducing legislation to combat the unfair practice of mislabeling nondairy products. The Defending Against Imitations and Replacements of Yogurt, Milk and Cheese to Promote Regular Intake of Dairy Every Day Act (Dairy Pride Act) would require that nondairy products made from nuts, seeds, plants and algae can no longer be mislabeled with dairy terms such as "milk," "yogurt" or "cheese."
“Dairy farmers in Wisconsin work tirelessly every day to ensure that their milk meets high standards for nutritional value and quality,” Baldwin says. “Imitation products have gotten away with using dairy’s good name for their own benefit, which is against the law and must be enforced. Mislabeling of plant-based products as ‘milk’ hurts our dairy farmers. That’s why I’ve authored the Dairy Pride Act to take a stand for Wisconsin farmers and the quality products they make.”
Dairy farmers and other producers from across Wisconsin are strongly supporting Sen. Baldwin's reform.
“While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, the increasingly common practice of labeling beverages as milk when they quite obviously are not is wrong and misleading," says Brad Nevin, a Rice Lake dairy farmer. "Sen. Baldwin’s bill simply asks FDA to enforce current regulations meant to uphold the standards of identity, and integrity, of milk.”
Janet Clark of Vision Aire Farms near Eldorado agrees. “Dairy has built a strong reputation as a reliable source of important nutrients we need daily," she says. "To use these dairy terms on plant-based products undermines the real value that dairy provides in the form of naturally occurring calcium, vitamin D and vitamin A, among others. Consumers associate dairy with the nutrients they need, and those are naturally occurring in milk from cows.”
Dairy producer coalitions and groups around the country are also applauding the legislation.
“For too long, the FDA has turned a blind eye to the misbranding of imitation dairy products, despite the decades-old federal law that milk comes from animals, not vegetables or nuts," says Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation. "None of these imitators provides the same high quality and quantity of nutrition offered by real milk. Sen. Baldwin’s Dairy Pride Act will simply ensure that FDA enforces current law by requiring marketers of these imitation products to call them something other than milk.”
Tom Liebe, president and CEO of the Cooperative Network agrees. “Cooperative Network strongly supports efforts to protect the integrity of dairy products by requiring national enforcement of the sensible labeling requirements we already have on the books," Liebe explains. "When misbranded items are corrected, we believe consumers will choose real dairy products over imitations, which will benefit Wisconsin’s vital $43 billion dairy industry."
Current Food and Drug Administration regulations define dairy products as being from dairy animals. Although existing federal regulations are clear, the FDA has not enforced these labeling regulations, and the mislabeling of products as "milk," "yogurt" and "cheese" has increased rapidly. This hurts dairy farmers who work tirelessly to ensure their Made in Wisconsin dairy products meet FDA standards and provide the public with nutritious food. It has also led to the proliferation of mislabeled alternative products that contain a range of ingredients and nutrients that are often not equivalent to the nutritional content of dairy products.
If passed, the Dairy Pride Act would require the FDA to issue guidance for nationwide enforcement of mislabeled imitation dairy products within 90 days, and would require the FDA to report to Congress two years after enactment to hold the agency accountable for this update in its enforcement obligations.
Let's hope there is bipartisan support in the Senate and the House of Representatives for this legislation. Milk is milk.