Plant-based dairy industry groups are fighting back against the dairy lobby after recent efforts to stop the plant-based food sector from using terms such as milk, yogurt, and cheese on its products via the January introduction of the Dairy Pride Act.
The Plant Based Foods Association has engaged the services of the law firm Alston & Bird to represent the plant-based dairy sector and challenge the Act's aim to suppress the use of these words, and this week, Good Food Institute lawyers filed an official Petition for Rulemaking under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act and the Administrative Procedure Act against this censorship.
“The Dairy Pride Act is a thinly veiled attempt to appease the dairy industry, discount consumer choice, and undermine competition,” says Emily Byrd, Senior Communications Specialist at Good Food Institute. “No reasonable consumer would confuse soymilk or almond milk with cow’s milk. In fact, demand for plant-based milks is on the rise precisely because consumers are seeking out dairy-free options.”
The plant-based food groups plan to argue that these terms are essential to help customers understand the food that they are purchasing.
“By using familiar terms, these companies are able to accurately convey to consumers what to expect; it signals the intent of the company for how their foods might be consumed,” explains Michele Simon, Executive Director of the Plant-Based Foods Association. “For example if a company makes plant-based ‘cheese shreds,’ that signals to the consumer how to use that particular food. Similarly, if a food tastes like yogurt and has a similar consistency, what does it matter if it was made with cow’s milk or almond milk?”
The Good Food Institute petition notes that attempting to censor these terms on plant-based dairy packaging is unconstitutional, as the government is only allowed to restrict commercial speech if there is a substantial risk of harm coming to consumers.
“Plant-based dairy producers should be facing a competitive market that does not privilege one industry over another,” says Byrd. “Our goal is to ensure that the FDA’s labeling rules do what they are intended to do: protect and inform consumers, not privilege specific industries.”
In 2015, American milk sales dropped seven percent, continuing a four-decade decline in dairy consumption. Americans consume less than two-thirds as much milk as they did in 1970. Simon notes that while “a few lobbying organizations” seem to believe that the plant-based food industry is to blame for these falling sales, she believes that “no label changes will help revive sagging cow’s milk sales.”
The plant-based food sector currently generates over $5 billion in annual sales, according to recent data analysis by SPINS. Plant-based milks are the largest category within the sector, with over $4.2 billion in sales in the past year.
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