'Milk' made from plants

Soy milk and almond milk are two of the several hundred plant-based products labeled and marketed using dairy terms. New bills introduced in Congress this week will force the Food and Drug Administration to enforce its labeling regulations.

A bipartisan bill to end the mislabeling of plant-based products with dairy terms such as “milk” was reintroduced in both the Senate and House on Thursday.

The DAIRY PRIDE Act would require FDA to issue guidance for nationwide enforcement of mislabeled products such as “soy milk” within 90 days. It would also require FDA to report to Congress two years after enactment to hold the agency accountable.

Non-enforcement of FDA’s own regulations defining dairy products has led to the proliferation of mislabeled alternative products that are often not nutritionally equivalent to dairy products, sponsors of the bill stated.

It also hurts dairy farmers that work to ensure their products meet FDA standards and provide the public with nutritious food, they said.

National Milk Producers Federation has battled the issue for 40 years, trying to get FDA to enforce its own standards.

The legislation further prods FDA toward increasing necessary action against plant-based imitators that “brazenly flout” FDA rules restricting the use of dairy terms on non-dairy products, Jim Mulhern, NMPF president and CEO, said in a press release.

The legislation is encouraging and something NMPF was anticipating, Alan Bjerga, NMPF senior vice president of communications, told Capital Press.

It might not only spur action in Congress but will also help make sure FDA keeps paying attention to the issue, he said.

The legislation comes at an important juncture, given the transition in leadership at FDA, he said.

Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has resigned, and Norman “Ned” Sharpless has been appointed as interim chief.

Gottlieb was seen as being active on food and nutrition issues and moved the labeling matter forward. Sharpless is the director of the National Cancer Institute, and his background is more on the drug side rather than food, he said.

Commissioners all have their own agendas, and it’s not yet known what will be on FDA’s agenda under new leadership, he said.

“Transition in leadership is when things fall off the agenda. This (legislation) is a signal to FDA that hey, this should be on your plate,” he said.

It took decades for FDA to take action on the issue, and NMPF doesn’t want the agency to go back to status quo — no action, he said.

“We feel consumers are finally getting some traction on this … you want to make sure the momentum continues,” he said.

NMPF has been talking about the labeling issue since the Jimmy Carter administration, and one has to assume it will take a long time to resolve. Although it’s easy to fix, FDA just needs to enforce its rules, he said.

“It’s important for us that we maintain action and momentum on this issue,” he said.

Congress is speaking up, and that will help keep it on FDA’s agenda, he said.

The legislation was reintroduced in the Senate by Sens. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, and Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and reintroduced in the House by Reps. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and Peter Welch, D-Vt.

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