Group of 10 bipartisan members of Congress write letter to FDA urging strong action against mislabeled milk and dairy products.

Jacqui Fatka, Policy editor

February 1, 2019

3 Min Read
Capitol Building Washington D C

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.”

Related:FDA now will sort out fight over what is milk

“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.”

Related:Poll: Consumers want FDA to end mislabeling of fake milks

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.

About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

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