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FDA Plans To Redefine Milk To Include Soy, Almonds

Holland McKinnie
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Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Jim Risch (R-ID) are leading bipartisan criticism of Joe Biden’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its recent ruling on plant-based milk substitutes. The agency’s decision allows U.S. manufacturers to use the term “milk” to describe liquids made from plant-based sources such as almonds and soy, despite objections from dairy farmers. 

Baldwin, who represents a state primarily known for its dairy farming, expressed her disapproval of the ruling, stating that “plant-based products should not be getting away with using dairy farmers’ good name.”

In a press release, she called out the FDA’s “misguided act” and indicated that she and Risch would reintroduce the DAIRY PRIDE Act to protect America’s dairy farmers. The proposed legislation would require the FDA to issue guidelines for nationwide enforcement of mislabeled plant-based products and hold the agency accountable for this update in their enforcement obligations.

Wisconsin led all states in the number of dairy farms in 2021, with 23% of the total in the U.S., and produced 14% of the national milk supply, second only to California. The ruling has also been met with opposition from the American Farm Bureau Federation, an agricultural lobbying group that requested the FDA to “take immediate action on the mislabeling of imitation dairy products” in 2019.

In its draft guidance, the FDA said that the “milk” label is “strongly rooted in consumers’ vocabulary when describing and talking about plant-based milk alternatives.” The agency also stated that the term “plant-based milk” alone should not be used to describe milk. The guidance does require that the type of plant used to make the beverage should be clearly stated to distinguish it from other milk alternatives. The guidance also recommends that companies include a voluntary nutrient statement on their plant-based drinks to convey how the product compares with actual milk when nutrient levels are lower.

Despite the FDA’s ruling, Baldwin argues that the term “milk” should be reserved for true milk, and plant-based products should not be allowed to deceive consumers with false labeling. The proposed legislation aims to protect America’s dairy farmers and ensure the integrity of dairy products.

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The FDA’s guidance includes a solicitation of comments on the proposed changes for 60 days. This could invite considerable pushback from dairy farmers who may contest the proposed changes. In the meantime, Baldwin and Risch plan to introduce the DAIRY PRIDE Act to override the guidelines with legislation that would protect the dairy industry from deceptive labeling practices.

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