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Updated: March 3, 2023

Udder confusion? King, Collins bill would bar mislabeling of non-dairy milk alternatives

Three cows in a stall. File photo / Jim Neuger The DAIRY Pride Act of 2023 was cosponsored by Maine's two senators.

To avoid udder confusion over algae milk and other plant-based products, a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by Maine's two senators would require enforcement against misbranded non-dairy alternatives. 

The bill would prohibit non-dairy products made from nuts, seeds, plants and algae from being branded as milk, yogurt or cheese. The proposed legislation was written in response to tentative guidelines recently issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that would allow the word "dairy" to be used or plant-based alternatives, albeit with additional information for consumers.

The agency suggests that plant-based products with the term "milk" in its name and a nutrient makeup different to milk include a voluntary nutrient statement that conveys how the product compares with milk based on criteria from the U.S. Food and Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service.

As the FDA invites public comment on its suggestions, lawmakers, including U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine, are seeking to eliminate the use of "milk" in non-dairy product labeling via the Defending Against Imitations and Replacements of Yogurt, Milk, and Cheese to Promote Regular Intake of Dairy Everyday Act of 2023, shortened as the DAIRY Pride Act.

"As an Aroostook County native, I know how essential the dairy industry is to our state's economy, and I know how hard Maine's dairy farmers work to produce nutritious milk, yogurt, cheese and other products," Collins said in a news release Thursday. "This bipartisan legislation would help protect our dairy farmers and the quality of their goods by requiring non-dairy producers to accurately label their products.”

King added that “consumers deserve to clearly see the truth about the food they buy while Maine dairy farmers deserve a fair shot in a crowded marketplace. I’m backing the DAIRY Pride Act to fight against the mislabeling of products that do not meet the FDA’s definition of a dairy and protect the integrity of Maine-made dairy products.”

While current FDA regulations define dairy products as being from dairy animals, the agency's recently issued guidance would allow plant-based products to continue to use dairy terms despite neither containing dairy nor having the nutritional value of dairy products, according to a Wednesday press release from Collins and King.
“The agency’s anti-dairy draft guidance contradicts the agency’s own regulations and definitions, violating the Administrative Procedure Act and hurting dairy farmers and producers who work tirelessly to ensure that dairy products meet FDA standards and provide the public with nutritious food," the lawmakers say in their release.

“It has also led to the proliferation of mislabeled alternative products that contain a range of ingredients and nutrients that are often not equivalent to the nutritional content of dairy products.”

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. The legislation would also nullify any guidance that is not consistent with dairy standards of identity, including the one released last week.
Other sponsors of the bill include U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.; Jim Risch, R-Idaho; Peter Welch, D-Vt.; Mike Crapo, R-Idaho; Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M.; Roger Marshall, R-Kan.; and Tina Smith, D-Minn.

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