A group of bipartisan freshman members of Congress urged the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to take strong action against manufacturers that falsely label non-dairy products as milk.

Reps. Anthony Brindisi (D., N.Y.) and John Joyce (R., Pa.) led a bipartisan letter to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, along with Reps. Anthony Delgado (D., N.Y.), Daniel Meuser (R., Pa.), Angie Craig (D., Minn.), Dusty Johnson (R., S.D.), Ben Cline (R., Va.,), Jim Hagedorn (R., Minn.), Russ Fulcher (R., Ida.) and Anthony Gonzalez (R., Ohio), in objection 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,” the freshman members wrote. “Modifying the word 'milk' with a plant product descriptor does not make the label accurate or appropriate.”

FDA’s federal standard defines “milk” as coming from the “milking of one or more healthy cows.” 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 comes from a cow, it’s milk; if it doesn’t, it’s not,” Brindisi said. “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 Brindisi’s district. “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.”

“As a doctor, it is clear to me that the mislabeling of milk creates a public health issue,” Joyce said. “Consumers should be able to feel confident that they are getting the proper nutritional value from their dairy products, and enforcing these federal regulations is necessary for that to occur.”

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) welcomed the senators' letter. “We welcome this new wave of support from incoming lawmakers of both parties” NMPF president and chief executive officer Jim Mulhern said. “This letter adds to already broad support for uniform labeling regulations that will bring clarity for businesses and consumers.”

This letter builds upon a bipartisan call for FDA action last October that garnered 48 signatures from members of the House. Surveys have repeatedly shown that Americans favor proper labeling of dairy alternatives. NMPF reported that a January poll found that only one in five consumers think plant-based imitators should be called milk, while an earlier survey showed that consumers, by nearly a three-to-one margin, wanted FDA to end the mislabeling of fake milks.

Author: Jacqui Fatka

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