Washington — U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin stood up for Wisconsin dairy farmers and introduced legislation recently to combat the unfair practice of mislabeling non-dairy products.
The Defending Against Imitations and Replacements of Yogurt, milk, and cheese to Promote Regular Intake of Dairy Everyday Act (DAIRY PRIDE Act) would require non-dairy products made from nuts, seeds, plants, and algae to 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,” said Senator Baldwin. “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 producers from across Wisconsin are strongly supporting Senator Baldwin’s reform:
“Finally after all these years, it’s about time someone stands up for the American Dairy farmer. We are held to higher quality and animal care standard every year to keep milk safe," said Jerry Croes, member of the Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery in Deer Park, WI. "It’s not fair that the name milk should be used by non-dairy drinks to further erode what little profit we have,”
Kewaunee dairy farmer Jim Smidel said he fully supports Baldwin’s efforts to introduce the DAIRY PRIDE Act.
"I know the economic struggles we dairy farmers face on a daily basis, as I am also an Ag Lender, helping through the low milk prices of 2015 and 2016," Smidel said. "We don’t need competition from plant-based drinks being labeled as milk and sending a false message to consumers, and also falsely advertising them as being better than cow’s milk. When compared on nutrients and price, cow’s milk still comes out on top."
While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, Rice Lake dairy farmer Brad Nevin said the increasingly common practice of labeling beverages as milk when they quite obviously are not is wrong and misleading.
"Senator Baldwin’s bill simply asks FDA to enforce current regulations meant to uphold the standards of identity, and integrity, of milk,” Nevin said.
Neosho dairy farmer John Rettler of Tin Valley Farms says consumers deserve to be treated with respect and that begins with proper and accurate food labels.
"Milk is clearly defined by the FDA, and this definition should also be enforced. It’s about time the FDA upheld its responsibility of enforcing existing labeling requirements, especially when it comes to dairy,” he said.
Dairy has built a strong reputation as a reliable source of important nutrients we need daily, added Eldorado dairy farmer Janet Clark.
"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, Vitamin A among others," Calrk said. "Consumers associate dairy with the nutrients they need, and those are naturally occurring in milk from cows.”
FarmFirst Dairy Cooperative General Manager David Cooper thanked Baldwin for taking the initiative to protect the definition of milk, cheese and yogurt.
"(Baldwin's) advocacy supports the hard and honest work of dairy farmers in Wisconsin and throughout the nation, and more importantly, supports clear and accurate information to be shared on food labels, something consumers deserve,” Cooper said.
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," said 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. Senator 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."
“Dairy farmers invest a great deal of time and money to produce a wholesome, nutritious product for consumers, and take pride in the milk they produce," said Steve Etka of the Midwest Dairy Coalition. "The federal government has promised to ensure that the term “milk” on store shelves can only be used on dairy products, but they have fallen short on that promise."
Mislabeling non-dairy foods confuses people buying these products and misleads them about the nutritional value of the items they purchase, said John Holevoet, Director of Government Affairs, Dairy Business Milk Marketing Cooperative.
"It also hurts dairy farmers and related businesses. This bill is simply asking the FDA to adequately enforce the laws already on the books. It’s a small step that could have a very big positive impact,” Holevoet said.
The DAIRY PRIDE Act is also supported by Bongards Creameries, Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, First District Association, Dairy Business Association, Dairy Business Milk Marketing Cooperative, FarmFirst Dairy Cooperative, Mid-west Dairymen's Company and Scenic Central Milk Producers.Wisconsin Dairy Products Association, Wisconsin Farmers Union, National Farmers Union, International Dairy Foods Association and Cooperative Network.
Current Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations define dairy products as being from dairy animals. Although existing federal regulation 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 that 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 nutrition content of dairy products.
The DAIRY PRIDE Act would require the 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 this update in their enforcement obligations.