The federal bill, which would require FDA to enforce its regulatory definition of milk and milk products as those derived from lactating animals, was praised by the dairy industry, which said that it would aid their business and clear up consumer confusion.
However, the plant-based food industry pointed out that the bill’s provisions run counter to FDA’s recent guidance affirming that plant-based milks can be labeled as “milk” so long as they publish nutritional information, signaling that there is little to no confusion among consumers.
Rather than debating milk definitions, ProVeg urges lawmakers to chart a different path away from the measure.
“Instead of squabbling over the naming of products, which is what the Dairy Pride Act is about, we should be introducing legislation that supports farmers in transitioning to more climate-friendly practices,” suggested Lana Weidgenant, U.S. policy and campaigns manager at ProVeg. “Industrial dairy farming is not the future and Senators need to accept this and act upon it.”
Farmers open minded if financially viable
ProVeg pointed to a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change estimating that high methane-producing foods, such as meat and dairy, will contribute to “push[ing] the planet past the 1.5 celsius international target by the end of the century if left unchecked.”
The organization suggests that many farmers have concerns about sustainability, “and are therefore open-minded about the food they produce, as long as there is a market for it and the market offers a financially secure and resilient future.”
In its 2022 report Amplifying Farmers Voices, ProVeg assessed incentives and barriers for farmers to shift to alternative protein production. It found that the impact of climate change is weighing on farmers, in addition to economic prospects.
“If you’re talking about replacing lost animal income with something else, then money talks,” one farmer said in the report.
ProVeg hopes to aid farmers to transition to plant-based protein production, citing as inspiration $65 million in funds allocated by the Dutch government through its National Growth Fund for building up the cultivated meat and cellular agriculture industry.
“Similarly, we would like Congress to invest more funds to allow the USDA to lead on open-access research dedicated to alternative proteins for both plant-based and cultivated foods,” Weidgenant said in an email to FoodNavigator-USA.
Reaching out to like-minded lawmakers
The exec said ProVeg has written to lawmakers that are supportive of the plant-based industry, including Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Reps. Julie Brownley, D-Calif., and Nancy Mace, R-S.C., to help foster “a supportive regulatory environment for plant-based foods.”
“These Senators authored a letter last year arguing against discriminatory legislation which, they noted, could negatively impact not only the plant-based industry but also hard-working farmers who grow crops like oats and almonds,” Weidegenant explained.
ProVeg will continue to bring to Senators’ attention the need for and opportunities provided by transitioning to alternative protein production.
“Farmers need help to transition to alternative protein production and Senators should be stepping up to offer that help to ensure both the long-term interests of farmers and the protection of the environment,” Weidgenant said.
The organization would also like to encourage support for policies that promote climate-friendly agriculture, such as healthy soil and soil management practices, which can be linked to better human health.
Promoting plant-based lunches, startups
Weidgenant explained that the federal government can also play a role in encouraging plant-based options for school lunches and other food programs.
She pointed to legislation in Illinois that will require schools to provide plant-based lunch options for students when requested, starting in August 2023.
“A similar scheme, adopted at the federal level would send out a clear message that climate-friendly food production and diets are a priority for the nation,” the exec said.
The organization also supports plant-based businesses through its incubator program, which it touts as the “world’s leading Incubator of plant-based and cultured food startups.”
“We are shaping the future of food by supporting pioneering companies that are developing disruptive alternatives to animal-based products, ingredients, and services,” ProVeg says.