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Under current policy, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) allows non-dairy substitute products to nonetheless be labeled as dairy products, such as oat milk or almond milk for example. This has been controversial in the industry.
So in 2018, the FDA put out a call for public comment, as they considered the possibility of altering or reversing the labeling policy. Almost 12,000 comments were submitted.
In February 2023, about four and a half years later, the FDA issued draft guidance essentially upholding the status quo. While they recommended that non-dairy substitutes label their products with what they termed “voluntary nutrient statements,” to better differentiate themselves from true dairy, they left their actual binding policy unchanged.
This surprised many in the industry, many of whom predicted a stricter policy to be unveiled — perhaps even eliminating the practice of labeling such products as “dairy” entirely.
What the bill does
The DAIRY PRIDE Act would ban non-dairy products from being labeled or sold as dairy, or as any specific word for dairy like “milk,” “yogurt,” or “cheese.”
The acronym ‘DAIRY PRIDE’ stands for Defending Against Imitations and Replacements of Yogurt, milk, and cheese to Promote Regular Intake of Dairy Everyday Act. (Of course, that acronym only works if major words including “milk” and “cheese” go uncapitalized.)
Although pretty much everybody in real life knows what *dairy *means, the bill leaves nothing to chance. It explicitly defines dairy as a food that “is, contains as a primary ingredient, or is derived from, the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more hooved mammals.”
The Senate version was introduced on February 28, as S. 549, by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI).
The House version was introduced a week and a half later on March 8, as H.R. 1462, by Rep. John Joyce (R-PA13).
What supporters say
Supporters argue that a label reading *dairy *should mean… well, dairy.
“Wisconsin’s dairy farmers produce second-to-none products with the highest nutritional value,” Sen. Baldwin said in a press release. “ imitation products have gotten away with using dairy’s good name without meeting those standards.”
“The Biden Administration’s guidance that allows non-dairy products to use dairy names is just wrong, and I’m proud to take a stand for Wisconsin farmers and the quality products they make,” Sen. Baldwin continued. “Our bipartisan [bill] will protect our dairy farmers and ensure consumers know the nutritional value of what they are purchasing.”
“Pennsylvania’s dairy farmers produce high-quality milk, cheeses, ice creams, yogurts, and more — providing our Commonwealth with both nutritious and delicious products,” Rep. Joyce said in a separate press release. “The nutritional value and benefits derived from dairy products cannot be confused with plant-based alternatives. I am proud to lead this legislation to support dairy farmers across our nation.”
What opponents say
Opponents counter that, realistically, consumers already know that their almond milk isn’t produced by a cow. So encouraging industry to adopt clearer labels voluntarily strikes the balance between providing consumers more information, but without a heavy-handed government mandate.
“Today’s draft guidance was developed to help address the significant increase in plant-based milk alternative products that we have seen become available in the marketplace over the past decade,” FDA Commissioner Robert Califf said in a press release. “The draft recommendations issued today should lead to providing consumers with clear labeling to give them the information they need to make informed nutrition and purchasing decisions on the products they buy for themselves and their families.”
Odds of passage
In addition to its Democratic lead sponsor, the Senate version has attracted 11 bipartisan cosponsors: five Republicans, five Democrats, and one independent. It awaits a potential vote in the Senate HELP (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions) Committee.
In addition to its Republican lead sponsor, the House version has attracted 21 bipartisan cosponsors: 15 Republicans and six Democrats. It awaits a potential vote in the House Energy and Commerce Committee.