Dairy Pride Act back on the table again in Washington D.C.

Wisconsin State Farmer
Group of lawmakers have reintroduced the Dairy Pride Act for the second time, hoping to spur the FDA into enforcing the definition of genuine dairy products that have been sharing the dairy aisle with a growing number of misleadingly labeled plant-based alternatives.

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Chair of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, and U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-ID) are standing up for American dairy farmers by reintroducing bipartisan legislation in the Senate today to combat the unfair practice of mislabeling non-dairy products using dairy names. Representatives Peter Welch (D-VT) and Mike Simpson (R-ID) are introducing bipartisan companion legislation in the House.

The Defending Against Imitations and Replacements of Yogurt, milk, and cheese to Promote Regular Intake of Dairy Everyday Act (DAIRY PRIDE Act) of 2021 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.

Current Food and Drug Administration (FDA) 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 plant-based imitation dairy products as ‘milk’, ‘yogurt’ and ‘cheese’ has increased rapidly.

Many sectors of the dairy industry along with lawmakers claimed the misleading imitation products hurts dairy farmers that work tirelessly to ensure their Made in Wisconsin dairy products meet FDA standards and provide the public with nutritious food. Without any oversight, 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.

When the group of Senators introduced the Dairy Pride Act  in 2017 it was met with controversy and did not pass. Two years later, Sen. Baldwin, along with Sens. Risch and Mike Crapo (R-ID), reintroduced the legislation. At the time, the bill received widespread support from from dairy groups and then FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb whose agency spent several month collecting public comments that debated how plant-based dairy alternatives should have to label their products. 

However, Gottlieb announced his resignation in 2019, leaving the future of the bill in limbo during the agency's transition to new leadership.

Last  year, dairy industry advocates applauded the 58 members of the House of Representatives who wrote then FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, urging the agency to quickly finish and act upon its examination of how to enforce regulations defining what may be labeled a dairy product.

Despite facing mounting pressure to pick a permanent FDA commissioner amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it appears President Joe Biden’s pool of potential candidates is only growing larger.

The Biden administration has yet to choose someone to lead the FDA, which is currently headed by interim commissioner Janet Woodcock. 

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. The bipartisan legislation is also cosponsored by Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Angus King (I-ME), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Tina Smith (D-MN).

“Dairy farmers in Wisconsin work tirelessly every day to ensure that their milk meets high standards for nutritional value and quality,” said Senator Baldwin in a news release. “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’m reintroducing the bipartisan Dairy Pride Act to take a stand for Wisconsin farmers and the quality products they make.”

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin

Her co-sponsor of the bill, Sen. Risch said it's only fair that dairy terms be reserved for genuine dairy products.

“If it’s not milk, don’t call it milk. Same goes for yogurt, butter and cheese. Only real dairy products from actual dairy animals deliver key nutrients and are held to extremely high FDA standards," Risch stated. 

Vermont Sen. Welch says dairy farmers are already struggling to survive and face a growing threat due to the misleading practice of marketing plant-based products as milk and dairy products.

"Our bill would require the FDA to enforce its existing definition of milk and dairy products so that consumers can make more informed choices,” he said.

Mike Simpson says as the co-chair of the Congressional Dairy Caucus, the Dairy Pride Act would provide a commonsense solution to ensure consumers are properly informed.

“For years I have been sounding the alarm to the FDA for accurate labeling in the dairy industry, only milk comes from a cow - not an almond or coconut or any other fruit or vegetable,” said Simpson. 

Jim Mulhern, President and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation said it's time that the FDA enforces its own standards and regulations to ensure the market transparency and product integrity and safety Americans need to make informed choices about what they feed themselves and their families.

"The medical community is increasingly voicing concerns over the negative health effects of FDA’s failure to enforce, and consumers are calling for honesty in the marketplace," Mulhern said. "(Baldwin and Risch) leadership brought real progress last year, including a bipartisan directive urging FDA to enforce dairy standards of identity. We hope to build on that work this Congress to ultimately solve this critical public health and fairness issue,” said .

Steve Etka, of the Midwest Dairy Coalition, said 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. 

"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," Etka said. 

Kevin Krentz

The lack of enforcement in the mislabeling of dairy products not only impacts the dairy farmers that produce them, but the consumers, rural communities and the entire dairy industry as well," said Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation President Kevin Krentz.

“Wisconsin’s dairy products have international appeal and are a source of a balanced diet. Labeling non-dairy products as dairy leads to confusion amongst consumers about nutritional health benefits," Krentz said. "We hope that Congress takes swift action to pass the DAIRY PRIDE Act and bring truth to real dairy labeling.”

Darin Von Ruden, President of the Wisconsin Farmers Union says this organization's membership fully supports the introduction and swift passage of the legislation.

Darin Von Ruden

"Our grassroots, member-driven policy opposes any changes in the FDA definition of milk, cheese or other products made with milk and opposes the use of the word "milk" to designate any product not derived from mammals,” he said.

For years, FarmFirst Dairy Cooperative has been engaged on the issue to require FDA to enforce milk standards of identity.

"We commend Senator Baldwin for her persistent efforts to hold the FDA accountable through her direct communication with FDA and the reintroduction of the Dairy Pride Act,” said General Manager Jeff Lyon. 

Dairy farmers and Associated Milk Producers Inc. member-owner David Peterson of Boyd, Wis., says milk’s good name is being misused and consumers are misled.

"The bill simply asks FDA to enforce regulations meant to uphold the standards of identity, and integrity, of milk,” Peterson said.

Due to the lack of enforcement of FDA labeling regulations, a cascade of products such as soy, almond, rice, coconut and oat beverages have gained in prominence in the dairy aisle under the guise of milk.

Brody Stapel

“Mislabeling is not tolerated in most sectors of the economy, but it is pervasive in the dairy aisle. And, the FDA has routinely signaled that it has no intention to correct the problem," said Brody Stapel, president of Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative and dairy farmer. "We are excited to see Senator Baldwin re-introduce this bill, telling the makers of plant-based imitations that they need to play by the rules, while supporting real dairy products produced by Wisconsin’s farmers and processors.”