DAIRY PRIDE Act would wipe out FDA labeling guidance for plant-based milk alternatives

By Lauren Nardella

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty/Monty Rakusen
Source: Getty/Monty Rakusen

Related tags Dairy Milk plant-based milk Dairy pride act

A proposed bill that would invalidate FDA’s recent guidance on plant-based milk alternatives has garnered the support of one of the largest dairy co-ops and opposition from the plant-based foods industry, suggesting a coming showdown on the definition of the word “milk” and other dairy products.

The bill, dubbed the DAIRY PRIDE Act (Defending Against Imitations and Replacements of Yogurt, Milk, and Cheese To Promote Regular Intake of Dairy Everyday Act) would prohibit products made from nuts, seeds, plants and algae from using terms such as milk, yogurt or cheese.

Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Jim Risch, R-Idaho, Susan Collins, R-Maine, Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Peter Welch, D-Vt., are introducing the bipartisan bill “to combat the unfair practice of mislabeling non-dairy products using dairy names,” and would compel FDA to follow existing regulatory definitions of dairy products, the lawmakers said.

While FDA officially defines milk or milk products as food products “made exclusively or principally from the lacteal secretion obtained from one or more healthy milk-producing animals,” the legislation takes aim squarely at FDA’s Feb. 23 draft guidance on plant-based milk alternatives​.

In the guidance, the agency says it would permit plant-based milk alternatives to use the term “milk” so long as a qualifier such as “almond milk” or “coconut milk” is also included.

From the lawmakers’ perspective, FDA’s guidance is misguided.

“The Biden Administration’s guidance that allows non-dairy products to use dairy names is just wrong, and I’m proud to take a stand for Wisconsin farmers and the quality products they make,” Baldwin said. “Our bipartisan DAIRY PRIDE Act will protect our dairy farmers and ensure consumers know the nutritional value of what they are purchasing.”

The legislators maintain that dairy products derived from animals offer higher nutritional value than “imitation” products, which “have gotten away with using dairy’s good name without meeting those standards,” according to Risch.

The Wisconsin-based Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative applauded the introduction of the bill, and maintained that the FDA guidance allowing plant-based alternatives to use the term milk “disregard[s]the agency’s own standard of identity” and confuses consumers.

The bill “send[s] a clear message to the plant-based alternative processors that they must abide by federal regulations,” Edge President Brody Stapel said. “Accurate labeling supports real dairy products, produced by actual dairy farmers and processors.”

Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of National Milk Producers Federation, suggested that FDA’s previous three commissioners “have each acknowledged the problem caused by imitation beverages that use dairy terms.”

‘Solution in search of a problem’

For the Plant-Based Foods Association, FDA’s guidance confirms that there is no consumer confusion regarding plant-based milk labeling.

“Additionally, the FDA recognized that consumers understand that plant-based milk alternatives are distinct products and choose to purchase plant-based milk alternatives because they are not cow’s milk,” Nicole Negowetti, vice president of policy and food systems, PBFA, told FoodNavigator-USA in an email. “The DAIRY PRIDE act is a solution in search of a problem.”

She noted that half of American households purchase both plant-based milk and cow’s milk, suggesting that consumers are making their own informed choices.

“Plant-based milks provide variety and choice to consumers, many of whom do not consume dairy for numerous reasons including allergy concerns, cultural relevance, intolerances to milk, animal welfare, sustainability, or lifestyle choices,” Negowetti added.

Enforcement of “imitation” dairy products

Baldwin first introduced the DAIRY PRIDE Act in 2017. The bill’s latest iteration was in 2021, and while it garnered seven co-sponsors, it was not referred to a committee.

However, a 2021 companion bill in the House gained some traction, with 47 co-sponsors and a referral to the Energy & Commerce Health subcommittee.

The DAIRY PRIDE Act would require the FDA to issue guidance regarding enforcement of mislabeled “imitation” dairy products within 90 days, and also require the agency to issue a report to Congress on its progress within two years.

“The legislation would also nullify any guidance that is not consistent with dairy standards of identity, including the one released last week,” the legislators affirm.

Related topics Regulation & Safety

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