The long standing feud between dairy products and plant-based dairy alternatives is based on packaging, labeling and standards of identity. Dairy doesn’t want producers of alternatives to be able to use terms like ‘milk’, ‘cheese’ and ‘cream’ to describe products made from plants.
Plant-based producers think it’s a non-issue created by dairy to stifle competition. There has not been much change on either side, and regulators have not prioritized the issue. The stalled Dairy Pride Act still hangs in the balance in Congress.
A nutrition profile focus
But the NMPF now says that the topic has been marred by ‘red herring’ arguments, turning what they believe to be a public-health issue into a debate on respect for consumer intelligence.
“Of the many inaccurate arguments mis-attributed to dairy in the debate over imitation-product labeling, one of the most persistent is that ‘Big Dairy says consumers are confused about what milk is,’” NMPF said.
They called this a ‘red herring’, or a logical fallacy that causes false conclusions by misdirecting a question, that no one in dairy is actually making. Rather, dairy wants to focus on the ‘public health’ issue, saying that plant alternatives do not stack up against dairy’s nutritional profile.
“That’s the kind of obfuscation a sector trying to get away with inaccurate marketing wants to create. For the public good, they can’t get away with it,” NMPF said.
NMPF cited a 2018 survey from Dairy Management, Inc that found 77% of consumers thought almond-based drinks have as much or more protein per serving than milk, and 55% believed plant-based beverages are labeled as ‘milk’ because their nutritional value is similar.
“It’s time to bury the ‘consumers already know what’s in their milk’ red herring. Busy, intelligent consumers need all the help they can get, without plant-based peddlers exploiting the fact that most people aren’t nutrition scientists and understandably (and accurately) associate beneficial nutritional qualities with dairy terms,” NMPF said.
Consider dairy in 2020 debates
As the voice of dairy farmers in Washington DC, the NMPF has been aware of and vocal about dairy’s role in this year’s presidential election. Constituents in rural agriculture states are always crucial voters, but dairy may play a special part this year.
In 2020, NMPF said that dairy farmers are unusually concentrated in states with large numbers of electoral votes and in swing states, compared to producers of other agricultural commodities.
The five biggest milk-producing states - California, Wisconsin, New York, Idaho and Texas - hold a total of 136 electoral votes, which is more than half of what is needed to win the presidency. Eight of the closest states in the 2016 election and three of the swing states were top dairy producers.
“Dairy’s swing-state strength is the confluence of the industry’s history and America’s political evolution,” NMPF said. “As US politics has become increasingly polarized on urban-rural lines, dairy farmers find themselves living in states where big cities and small towns collide.”
NMPF advised that candidates should be focused on securing the dairy vote, and knowing what farmers want - expanded exports, a workable farm-labor system, and acknowledgement of the dairy vs plant alternatives labeling debate.
“The next year will be exciting, and crucial for the direction of America. Dairy farmers will play an important role in this decision. We at NMPF already know how much dairy votes matter. Smart candidates will know that too,” the group said.