As part of his work to help Upstate New York dairy farmers, Reps. Anthony Brindisi (NY-22) and John Joyce (PA-13) led a group of bipartisan freshman members of Congress to urge the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take strong action against manufacturers who falsely label non-dairy products as milk.
In a bipartisan letter to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, Brindisi and Joyce, along with Reps. Anthony Delgado (NY-19), Daniel Meuser (PA-09), Angie Craig (MN-02), Dusty Johnson (SD-AL), Ben Cline (VA-06), Jim Hagedorn (MN-02), Russ Fulcher (ID-01), and Anthony Gonzalez (OH-16), objected to the growing trend of imitation or substitute dairy products labeled with standardized dairy terms, saying it “has undermined consumer confidence, the very purposes of standards of identity for foods.”
“We urge you to make crystal clear that dairy imitators will not be considered in compliance with standards of identity if they merely add the name of a plant material in front of a standardized dairy term, or otherwise reference dairy terms,” wrote Brindisi and his colleagues. “Modifying the word “milk” with a plant product descriptor does not make the label accurate or appropriate”
The FDA’s federal standard defines “milk” as coming from the “milking of one or more healthy cows.” The FDA says food labels are meant to “inform consumers about what they’re buying, and standards of identity are used to ensure that foods have the characteristics expected by consumers.”
“It’s simple: if it comes from a cow, it’s milk; if it doesn’t, it’s not,” said Brindisi. “Why would we call a product something it’s not? Dairy farmers in Upstate New York set high standards for the milk they produce. Copycat products shouldn’t be able to profit off of their hard work.”
“As a dairy farmer, I take pride in the fresh, nutritious, and real milk I produce each and every day,“ said Neal Rea, Upstate New York dairy farmer and Chairman of Agri-Mark, Inc., a dairy cooperative with many farmer-owners in NY-22. “Copycat products should not be able to misuse names like milk, cheese, and yogurt in the marketplace. I appreciate Rep. Brindisi’s leadership on this important cause, which has strong bipartisan support, and I am hopeful that going forward, FDA will finally enforce existing dairy-label standards.”
In NY-22, the dairy industry supports nearly 4,000 direct jobs, more than $235 million in wages, and generates an economic impact of $1.83 billion.
The full text of the letter to Commissioner Gottlieb is below and available here:
Dear Commissioner Gottlieb:
As newly-elected members of Congress, we look forward to working with you to ensure a safe, affordable, and abundant food supply that provides consumers with clear information about the products they are choosing. In this context, we are pleased that your agency is acting to enforce U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations defining what may be labeled a dairy product, to combat the proliferation of imitation and substitute dairy products in the marketplace that undermine FDA regulations by using standardized dairy terms on non-dairy products.
Last fall, several of our colleagues wrote to you in a letter dated October 3, 2018 on this very issue, and we wish to associate ourselves with the views they shared. As they noted, the ongoing lack of enforcement of existing dairy product terms in 21 Code of Federal Regulations parts 131, 133, and 135, pertaining to milk and cultured milk products, cheeses, and frozen dairy desserts, respectively, have undermined consumer confidence, the very purposes of standards of identity for foods.
In the last several years, more and more products have come to be labeled with standardized dairy terms, even though they are imitations or substitutes of actual dairy products. The use of the term “milk” by manufacturers of plant-based beverages and other products is a clear, straightforward violation of milk’s standard of identity, and this practice has extended to other plant-based offerings mimicking butter, yogurt, cheese, and ice cream.
Dairy product terms convey specific information for consumers on nutritional content and ingredient performance. Put simply, imitations and substitutes do not meet these standards, nor do they have any standardized requirements for nutritional content, composition, and processing, unlike the dairy products they seek to imitate. Most importantly, they are not sourced from cows or other lactating mammals as required by the standards we referred to up above.
Given this ongoing problem, we are pleased that FDA now plans to act. We urge you to make crystal clear that dairy imitators will not be considered in compliance with standards of identity if they merely add the name of a plant material in front of a standardized dairy term, or otherwise reference dairy terms. Modifying the word “milk” with a plant product descriptor does not make the label accurate or appropriate, as these products simply do not contain milk or milk ingredients and the plant-based liquids are not permitted ingredients in milk.
In closing, as our colleagues pointed out last year, we note that similar standards are the rule around the world, and unsurprisingly, U.S. manufacturers of plant-based foods already comply with these regulations when they export their products. Uniform standards will help create more certainty in the market for both businesses and consumers. We appreciate your attention to this matter and your decision to act and look forward to working with you on this issue.