A new trade group called the Plant Based Foods Association will begin lobbying in Washington in order to go head-to-head with established trade groups for beef, pork, poultry, eggs, and dairy, bringing long overdue notoriety to the growing demand for vegan food.
Founded by Michele Simon, a public health lawyer and food policy advocate, the PBFA already has the support of 23 companies including established brands Tofurky and Follow Your Heart, along with newcomers like Upton's Natural and Miyoko's Kitchen.
“We’re joining the barnyard,” Simon told the New York Times about the PFBA, which will be represented by Elizabeth Kucinich who has worked to promote the vegan diet alongside her husband, former congressman and presidential candidate, Dennis Kucinich.
“The association will probably lobby, for instance, for federal subsidies for plant-based milks to be served in school lunchrooms," reports the Times. Currently, schools only receive reimbursement for cow milk. The group also plans to take on the FDA’s “standards of identity,” the Times explains. Those standards “prescribe what ingredients and in what quantities are needed to, say, call cheese ‘cheese’ on packaging and labels.”
It’s an issue many plant-based brands are all too aware of—many steer clear of coming too close to sounding like the “real” thing for fear of lawsuits and other issues like those that recently plagued Hampton Creek and its line of egg-free Just Mayo. It was sued by competing brand Hellmann’s parent company Unilever (the suit was later dropped) and received warning letters from the FDA over its use of the word “mayo” because, according to the agency, the eggless mayonnaise failed to meet the agency’s 50-year-old definition of mayo, which includes eggs. Hampton Creek uses a pea protein instead of eggs.
Kucinich told the Times the goal of the PBFA is to “level the playing field” so that plant-based meat and beverage products get equal consideration for school lunches, as an example. She also wrote to the USDA over the association’s disappointment in the agency’s failure to recommend a reduced red meat intake in its recent update of the dietary guidelines. Red meat consumption has not only been linked to an increased risk of developing certain types of cancer, but it's also strongly linked to climate change.
“It’s really to make sure we have a seat at the table,” Ms. Kucinich said.
The formation of the Plant Based Foods Association comes as interest in plant-based proteins is at an all time high. Sales grew nearly 9 percent over 2014-2015 “through retailers not including Whole Foods,” the Times explains, compared to overall sales of food products, which grew just 3.7 percent.
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