Dairy Cries Over ‘Soymilk’ as Lobbying Spills Into Legislation

By Teaganne Finn

Dairy groups are squaring off against soy, almond, and rice producers on legislation that would prohibit use of such terms as “milk” or “ice cream” in a product name, such as “soymilk,” if the product isn’t from a hooved animal.

The DAIRY PRIDE Act was introduced in January by two dairy-state lawmakers, Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). The identical bills ( H.R. 778, S. 130) are in committee, where no action has been taken.

When products labeled “soymilk” entered the mainstream two decades ago, dairy groups argued the term broke the Food and Drug Administration’s rules defining “milk” as a dairy product. Plant-based groups said the “soy” or “almond” before the “milk” acted as a qualifier and thus the label wasn’t misleading. The FDA hasn’t ruled for either side.

The DAIRY PRIDE Act would accomplish what the dairy groups have been unable to get through lobbying the FDA on the matter. Eleven entities have lobbied on the measure this year, with dairy interests significantly outspending the plant-food side, according to a Bloomberg Government analysis.

Doug DiMento, a spokesman for Agri-Mark Inc., a dairy co-op, told Bloomberg BNA that the industry hopes this legislation is included in a vehicle such as the 2018 farm bill if it doesn’t advance as a stand-alone measure.

Alicia Rockwell, a spokeswoman for almond producer Blue Diamond Growers, told Bloomberg BNA there is no consumer confusion and the legislation is unnecessary.

Entities in support of the DAIRY PRIDE Act have spent nearly $300,000 lobbying through June, according to the BGOV analysis. Those against the bill spent nearly $40,000 in that period. The totals are for all lobbying, however, not just on the DAIRY PRIDE Act.

The Good Food Institute, a vegan group, said plant-based producers have been waiting 20 years for a definitive position from the FDA. A group allied with the GFI petitioned the FDA in 1997, asking the agency to recognize “soymilk” as the established or common name to be used in labels to identify a beverage of this nature.

The GFI recently submitted its own petition asking the FDA for an affirmative ruling to allow labeling of non-dairy products with dairy terminology.

“Nothing has happened in the last 20 years that makes it OK to combine plant and nut powders with water, sugar, emulsifiers ... and call it ‘milk’,” said National Milk Producers Federation President and CEO Jim Mulhern in an Aug. 30 press release announcing that the group is asking the FDA to reject the GFI’s petition.

“We are going to be looking for every opportunity to help move forward the DAIRY PRIDE Act,” Chris Galen, a spokesman for the group, told Bloomberg BNA. “We will continue to ask regulators to take enforcement action.”

Conveying Alternatives

Blue Diamond Growers spent about $24,000 lobbying Congress on issues including the DAIRY PRIDE Act over the first and second quarters of this year, according to the BGOV analysis.

The Plant Based Food Association spent $14,000 lobbying Congress on different issues, including the bill. The group says the word “milk” in plant-based foods and beverages helps shoppers understand alternatives to dairy.

“This is no attempt to fool consumers,” Michele Simon, executive director of the association, told Bloomberg BNA. “It’s simply trying to convey alternatives to products consumers are used to.”

The association is actively lobbying against the DAIRY PRIDE Act now and will continue to do so, she said.

“We will as long as we have to until the bill is dead,” she said.

Can’t ‘Milk an Almond’

DiMento, the Agri-Mark spokesman, told Bloomberg BNA that the legislation seeks to protect dairy’s good name.

“We are a dairy farmer-owned co-op so we firmly believe milk comes from cows,” he said.

Agri-Mark Inc. spent $20,000 lobbying in the first and second quarters of this year, according to the BGOV analysis.

Boyd Schaufelberger, vice president of Holstein Association USA, spoke on the labeling controversy at a farm bill listening session hosted by the House Agriculture Committee on Aug. 30 in Illinois.

“After milking animals for 40 years I’ve never been able to milk an almond,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Teaganne Finn in Washington at tfinn@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

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