Michael Dykes, CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association, told Congress that the issues contained in the proposed Dairy Pride bill were “probably best resolved in the marketplace” at the House Agriculture Committee hearing Wednesday. The bill would make it illegal for plant-based milks and other dairy products to use the words milk, yogurt, or cheese on their packaging.
Dykes spoke in response to questions from Representative Doug LaMalfa, who said he was “mystified” by the bill. While dairy manufacturers allege that the bill is intended to reduce confusion for consumers, current labeling procedures make it ”pretty obvious” what customers are buying.
During the hearing, LaMalfa asked Dykes for confirmation that current labeling procedures were misleading for consumers, but Dykes replied that the issue was more related to the beverage case being a very "competitive" sector of the grocery store.
"It's a consumer choice," said LaMalfa.
“We thank Rep. Doug LaMalfa for his leadership at the hearing today," Michele Simon, executive director of the Plant Based Foods Association, said in a statement. "We are thrilled to learn that the CEO of the association representing a majority of the dairy industry agrees that this matter is best resolved in the marketplace. We look forward to the rest of the dairy industry coming to the same logical conclusion.”
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The dairy milk sector, however, continues to demand that the FDA enforce federal standards of identity for milk. After the Committee hearing, the National Milk Producers Federation CEO Jim Mulhern told FoodNavigator-USA that there was "support from some quarters in the agency for our point of view."
He also noted that the motivation behind the introduction of the Dairy Pride Act for the 2018 Farm Bill was directly linked to the fact that since "FDA is not willing to act, we will do everything we can to have Congress direct them to act."
Mulhern also notes that for his Federation, the motivation behind the introduction of the bill has less to do with reducing competition and more with "product integrity."
"These products are nutritionally inferior to the products they are trying to emulate," he says. "We're producing nature's most perfect food, and we want to reclaim it."
The plant-based milk sector is on the rise in the United States, with 54 percent growth over the last five years. The sector generated $1.4 billion last year alone. Dairy milk sales, meanwhile, dropped 11 percent over the course of last year.
From 2010 to 2015, sales of almond milk alone – currently the most popular item in the plant-based milk sector, representing over two-thirds of the American market – grew 250 percent to $894.6 million, according to the Nielsen Company.