Sen. Tammy Baldwin pushes for legislation that would require relabeling of plant-based milks following release of new FDA guidance 

Draft FDA regulations say plant-based products can also be labled as milk or cheese
Published: Mar. 6, 2023 at 2:49 PM CST
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Some lawmakers in Washington are now pushing for legislation that would limit what can be labeled as milk after the Food and Drug Administration released new draft guidelines in February that allows plant-based products to use the word milk on their packaging.

Dairy farmers and advocates have long argued that plant-based milks should not be allowed to keep using dairy’s name on their labeling.

Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) agrees. She recently reintroduced the “Dairy Pride Act” in Congress which would require non-dairy products made from nuts, seeds, plants and algae to no longer be labeled with dairy terms.

“If you look at a dairy case these days, you find imitation products all over the place,” said Senator Baldwin. “The Food and Drug Administration is simply not doing enough to hold folks to account for using these dairy terms for imitation products.”

She says calling plant-based beverages “milk” implies a nutritional equivalency and that’s a problem for dairy farmers.

“Our small- and medium-sized dairy farms have had a lot of challenges. This doesn’t need to be another one. The use of dairy’s good name by other plant-based products for their own profit,” said Senator Baldwin.

Supporters of the legislation say cows produce second-to-none milk, cheese and dairy. They argue that using the word “milk” on plant-based products is dishonest branding. But others disagree, including the FDA, saying consumers already know the difference between dairy and plant-based products.

“It’s really an anti-competitive bill that’s just meant to protect the traditional dairy industry from competition,” said Madeline Cohen, the Senior Regulatory Attorney at the Good Food Institute, a group that advocates for plant-based products.

Cohen points out the FDA said its proposed guidance that consumers understand that plant-based products are distinctly different from milk.

“They’re buying these products specifically because they’re not cow’s milk,” she said.

The FDA is recommending that the makers of alternative milks put labeling on their packaging that note the nutritional differences between dairy and their products.

If the guidelines are finalized, the recommendations would be voluntary but companies are expected to comply.