DAIRY PRIDE Act Churns Up More Controversy Over Outdated Definitions

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Information opposing the DAIRY PRIDE Act’s (Defending Against Imitations and Replacements of Yogurt, Milk, and Cheese To Promote Regular Intake of Dairy Everyday Act) attack on plant-based dairy was sent to all 535 Congressional offices yesterday by Good Food Institute Lobbyist and Senior Policy Specialist, Joanna Grossman, as members of the Plant Based Foods Association met in San Francisco to review potential compliance challenges with FDA labeling standards.

In her message, Grossman explores the antiquated idea of “standards of identity” upon which the Act is based, calling it a “Depression-era holdover designed to dictate what a wide range of food products must (or must not) contain.” When these standards were created, they were intended to protect consumers from financial harm in a world before the widespread communication of nutrition information; they were never intended to “stifle competition and bolster one industry’s profits at the expense of another,” something that Grossman alleges the DAIRY PRIDE Act would do.

“The SOI for milk (the ‘lacteal secretion’ obtained from ‘one or more healthy cows’) is so nonsensical that even goat’s milk or sheep’s milk wouldn’t qualify as ‘milk’ under the federal definition,” she writes.

The message also notes that this Act is not within the purview of the FDA, which is primarily concerned with food safety and ensuring that labels are not misleading.

“The DAIRY PRIDE Act sponsors argue legislation is necessary to help dairy farmers, but such protectionism does not fall under the agency’s mission,” writes Grossman. “The relevant question is whether consumers are being deceived by terms such as ‘coconut milk.’”

Grossman goes on to cite legal precedents, including a 2013 case against Silk, which was dismissed when a federal judge found that it “stretches the bounds of credulity” that a consumer would be deceived by such labeling.

“It would be problematic if the word ‘milk’ and pictures of cows were the only thing on a container of plant-based milk,” Grossman writes. “In fact, the opposite is true since companies understand that consumers are actively seeking out alternatives precisely because they do not contain dairy.”

“Passing the DAIRY PRIDE Act would signify a clear case of needless government overreach considering no confusion exists,” Grossman writes.

Dairy organizations including the National Milk Producers Federation, meanwhile, are demanding that “dairy imitators” stop using the terms on their packaging immediately. Jim Mulhurn, President and CEO of NMPF even claim that plant-based milk producers are contributing to the “fake food” movement, according to Dairy Reporter, by continuing to use these words on plant-based foods.

According to Mulhurn, the Act continues to attract support in Congress, with three U.S. senators and 14 members of the House of Representatives in favor of the bill.

In March, Representative Doug LaMalfa said at a House Agriculture Committee hearing that he was “mystified” by the proposed bill, noting that he found that current labels were ”pretty obvious.” Michael Dykes, CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association, agreed at the same hearing that the issues contained in the proposed bill were “probably best resolved in the marketplace.”

The bill was first introduced in January by Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin with the backing of the dairy industry.

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Emily Monaco
Emily Monaco

Emily Monaco is an American food and culture writer based in Paris. She loves uncovering the stories behind ingredients and exposing the face of our food system, so that consumers can make educated choices. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Vice Munchies, and Serious Eats.