September 28, 2023

Interpretive Summary: Senators send letter to the FDA over lab-grown dairy

Senators send letter to the FDA over lab-grown dairy 

By: Sydney Sheffield 

A group of bipartisan Senators, led by Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Senator Jim Risch (R-ID) sent a letter to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), over concerns for lab-grown dairy. The letter expresses deep concern that the FDA is allowing non-dairy lab-grown products to be illegally labeled with dairy terms. The group also highlights the increase of these new products, specifically the new cell-based, lab-grown fake dairy products that are using dairy terminology to advertise. 

“For decades FDA has allowed non-dairy products to illegally use dairy terms to label their imitation products, most of which are nutritionally inferior to the real dairy foods they purport to emulate,” wrote the Senators in a letter to the FDA Commissioner. “Public health is now facing a new, additional perpetrator – Cell-based dairy imitation products. These are synthetically created options posing as natural foods, many of which are nutritionally inferior to the dairy products they imitate.”

Currently, the FDA regulations define dairy products as being from dairy animals. However, the FDA has not actively enforced these regulations, resulting in non-dairy products using dairy terminology. According to the Senators, this lack of regulation has led to the rapid growth of mislabeled alternative products that contain a range of ingredients and nutrients that are often not equivalent to the nutritional content of dairy products, including cell-based, synthetic dairy imitation products. The group feels that by using dairy names like milk, these synthetic products are posing as natural foods, which violates the FDA’s standards of identity, which require the food product be made from milk from an animal.

“It is critical that FDA intervene to prevent this new violation committed by cell-based foods from compounding the harm Americans are already experiencing from FDA’s decades of inaction on plant-based mislabeling,” wrote the Senators. “New developments in food science should advance new and innovative products, not cause deeper injury to public health. It is FDA’s job to ensure a stable and transparent marketplace to support safe innovation while protecting Americans.”

To combat this issue, Senators reintroduced the Defending Against Imitations and Replacements of Yogurt, Milk, and Cheese to Promote Regular Intake of Dairy Everyday Act (DAIRY PRIDE Act) earlier this year. The DAIRY PRIDE Act would require the FDA to issue guidance for nationwide enforcement of mislabeled imitation dairy products within 90 days and require the FDA to report to Congress two years after enactment to hold the agency accountable for this update in their enforcement obligations. So far, the bill has only been introduced and referred to the House Subcommittee on Health. 

Many in the dairy industry support the Senators’ efforts to hold the FDA accountable. The National Milk Producers Federation’s (NMPF’s) President and CEO Jim Mulhern said, “The NMPF thanks Senators Baldwin and Risch for their leadership in imploring FDA to enforce its own existing standards of identity. After decades of the FDA failing to enforce, the misinformation and confusion around the nutrient content of dairy imitators is harming public health, as health and medical organizations have told the FDA. Americans need the FDA to do its job to ensure consumers have food labeling that helps them make informed choices about what they feed themselves and their families. Americans need marketplace transparency, integrity, and protection now more than ever, as new products and processes are transforming what consumers find on the grocery shelves at an increasingly rapid rate.”

Read the letter here