US dairy groups press Congress on Dairy Pride Act

By Beth Newhart contact

- Last updated on GMT

“Allowing non-dairy products to use dairy terms to promote goods with wildly different nutritional values has undermined public health." Pic: Getty/Noel Hendrickson
“Allowing non-dairy products to use dairy terms to promote goods with wildly different nutritional values has undermined public health." Pic: Getty/Noel Hendrickson

Related tags: Dairy pride act, Dairy Farm, Dairy farmers, Dairy farming, Milk producers federation

Three years after its first introduction to the Senate, the divisive Dairy Pride Act is still on the minds of US dairy. The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) made a case for stricter labeling guidelines while the FDA is stalled.

The bill calls for dairy’s protection against alternative products made from plant bases, overhauling labeling requirements to ban the use of dairy terms for non-dairy products. It’s been largely supported by the dairy industry and largely opposed by the makers of alternatives.

The Dairy Pride Act failed to pass Congress in 2017. Then for several months, the FDA collected public comments that debated how plant-based dairy alternatives should have to label their products.

But FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb resigned in March 2019 while the project was still under way, and the bill was reintroduced in the Senate. It failed to pass again, and progress on it has been stalled since.

Last week Tom Balmer, the executive VP of NMPF, testified before a congressional subcommittee on behalf of the bill. He said that passing the Dairy Pride Act might “finally compel the FDA to enforce its existing standards of identity for dairy products.”

“Allowing non-dairy products to use dairy terms to promote goods with wildly different nutritional values has undermined public health and directly flouts the FDA’s own rules,”​ Balmer said.

Influencing consumers on both sides

The FDA already has a set standard of identity for dairy product labeling, but does not currently enforce it. The new bill would designate foods that make an ‘inaccurate’ claim about milk contents as ‘misbranded’ and subject to enforcement of labeling rules.

It would also require the FDA to issue guidance for nationwide enforcement of mislabeled imitation dairy products within 90 days of its passage and require FDA to report to Congress two years after enactment to hold the agency accountable in its enforcement, according to Balmer.

He pointed out that Stephen Hahn, who was confirmed as FDA Commissioner in December, has already voiced support for “clear, transparent, and understandable labeling for the American people.”

The FarmFirst Dairy Cooperative agreed with NMPF, and backed Balmer’s testimony.

John Rettler, president of FarmFirst, said, “Today’s consumers are inundated with ads and sales pitches, especially when it comes to purchasing products that support a healthy lifestyle and provide quality nutrition.

“Imitators of real dairy products are no exception to portraying themselves in this light, although they pale in comparison to the nutrition package and overall taste profile that real dairy provides.”

“Consumers are being clearly misguided when a product uses the word ‘milk’ on its packaging and completely lacks the properties of milk’s nutrition, taste profile, and overall simplicity of a naturally-produced product,”​ he continued.

A critical pillar of big dairy’s argument for a labeling bill like this has been the claim that the average consumer is confused by contents and nutritional value of plant-based alternatives.

But those in the plant-based business have taken issue with these claims, calling the proposed restrictions ‘unnecessary, costly and unconstitutional.’​ In the past the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA) has called the Dairy Pride Act “a solution in search of a problem.”​

“The marketplace disruption being pushed by the dairy lobby would hinder innovation, create untenable costs for our members, and ultimately be found unconstitutional, making the entire effort a waste of everybody’s time and resources,”​ PBFA said.

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