February 24, 2020

Dairy Labeling Guidelines

Senators call on the FDA to take action on dairy labeling guidelines

The DAIRY PRIDE Act, Defending Against Imitations and Replacements of Yogurt, Milk, and Cheese To Promote Regular Intake of Dairy Everyday Act, was first introduced into the Senate in 2017, the same year it failed to pass in Congress. For several months after, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) received public comments that deliberated how plant-based dairy alternatives should be labeled. In March 2019, the project was still underway, and the Act reintroduced to the Senate when FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb resigned. S. 130 failed to pass again, and the development has ceased. The purpose of the bill is to require enforcement against misbranding dairy alternatives.

Executive Vice President of the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) Tom Balmer, testified before a congressional subcommittee defending the bill, expressing that its passage may “finally compel the FDA to enforce its existing standards of identity for dairy products.” While the FDA currently has a set of standards in place for the identification of dairy products, it is not enforced. The DAIRY PRIDE Act would identify erroneous claims about milk contents as misbranding and be subject to the enforcement of labeling guidelines.  

Republican and Democratic Senators sent a bipartisan letter to the new FDA Commissioner Stephan Hahn, expressing their desire to “combat the misuse of dairy terms on non-dairy products,” stating that doing so “represents a clear violation of existing FDA rules.” The Senators also encouraged Hahn to “move swiftly” and continue where the process was stalled after Gottleib’s resignation.

The subject of mislabeling goes beyond market competition; it is a public health problem. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) sent a letter to the FDA stating that “Pediatricians report that using the term ‘milk’ in the labeling of dairy-free alternatives has caused parental confusion,” and that consumers believe “many of these plant-based alternative products are perceived as having the same or more vitamins, proteins, or other key nutrients as compared to milk.” These concerns led the AAP to recommend the “FDA reserve the label of ‘milk’ solely for traditional dairy products to ensure that children receive the optimal nutrition they need.” A survey conducted by the NMPF found that more than one-third of participants believe plant-based beverages have the same or more protein than dairy milk. In the letter to the FDA, Senators share the concern over public confusion, stating that it is “both unfair to our hardworking dairy farmers and problematic for consumers, making it harder for Americans to make educated decisions regarding what they feed themselves and their families.”