Amendment prohibiting dairy labeling fails in Senate vote

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer

A national dairy group says the defeat of an amendment that would have altered the way the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates non-dairy "milk" sends a strong message to food marketers who have long ignored FDA’s food labeling standards by inappropriately using dairy terms on products that do not contain any dairy.

Amendment banning dairy label enforcement goes down in flames on Senate floor.

"Those days are numbered," said Jim Mulhern, president of the National Milk Producers Federation. "The FDA now knows it has strong, bipartisan support in Congress in its efforts to assure a fair marketplace."

The amendment authored by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and co-sponsor Sen. Cory Booker, (D-NJ) was defeated in a 14-84 vote, precluding the measure from becoming part of a Senate bill.

Senators Lee and Booker introduced an amendment to an appropriations bill, that If passed, would have prevented the "use of funds to enforce the standards of identity with respect to certain foods." 

Lee told fellow legislators that the labeling requirements were "outdated" and "unnecessary" and said "the role of government in the market is to protect competition, not any one competitor."

Sen. Tammy Baldwin called Lee's amendment "an attack on dairy farmers across the country and in my home state of Wisconsin."

Just last month, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told those gathered at the Politico Pro Summit that his agency would begin crafting a guidance document to provide consistency and clarity for consumers.

The agency has long had a definition of milk as being an animal-based product, but it hasn't been enforced. 

"This has been a little bit of a bugaboo to the dairy industry," Gottlieb said.  during a Politico event in Washington, D.C. "But we do have a standard of identity, and I intend to enforce that."

Mulhern said NMPF was pleased with the Senate's vote that gives the FDA the green light to implement the change which is expected to take a year more.

“We are very pleased with the Senate’s overwhelming rejection of Sen. Lee’s blatant attempt to interfere with the ability of the Food and Drug Administration to enforce standards of identity for dairy products and other foods," Mulhern said in a statement.  "We fought this amendment because it would have undermined the decades-long policy, established by Congress, that the FDA should regulate food names in order to promote honesty and fair dealing in the interest of consumers.”

He also thanked Senators Baldwin and Jim Risch (R-ID) for their bipartisan work to defeat the amendment.