When I say “dairy pride,” I’m not talking about what it feels like to love a herd of dairy cows. I’m talking about the DAIRY PRIDE Act: new legislation that would punish companies for calling soymilk, “soymilk.” No, I’m not kidding, and no, I never imagined I would be writing about this.
If you just clicked on this for an adorable picture of cows, I’ve got you covered. But I would highly recommend sticking around to learn more.
Okay, let me break it down: DAIRY PRIDE stands for “Defending Against Imitations and Replacements of Yogurt, milk, and cheese to Promote Regular Intake of Dairy Everyday”(…Act). It sounds valiant, doesn’t it? One can imagine lawmakers standing guard in the dairy aisle, telling consumers they don’t actually want that almond milk they have in the cart—they must really want a gallon of cow’s milk and a block of cheddar!
This bill, introduced by Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Congressman Peter Welch of Vermont, asks the FDA for strict enforcement of the federal “standards of identity” for milk, which defines the product as “the lacteal secretion…obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows.”
These product standards are meant to protect consumers from being misled by confusing and inaccurate labels. They are not meant to be used to unfairly prop up one industry (dairy) at the expense of consumer choice. The assumption that consumers are purchasing non-dairy milks, yogurts, and cheeses because they’re confused is as hilarious as it is condescending.
As our senior policy specialist, Dr. Joanna Grossman, wrote in an op-ed in The Hill:
There’s a certain paternalistic arrogance in presuming consumers can’t make informed choices on their own and need the government to tell them what’s what and rescue them from their confusion. “Got big government?” doesn’t have the same ring as “Got milk?”, but you get the picture. Enforcing outdated and rigid standards of identity—with no consideration for the consequences and complications entailed—is an idea that needs to be put out to pasture.
For context, here are a few things that could feasibly qualify as “misleading labels” according to Depression-era standard of identity requirements:
- “Cream” of Wheat
- Peanut “Butter”
- Almond “Milk”
- Goat “Cheese”
Possible solutions include “liquefied wheat,” “peanut sludge,” “nut juice,” and “fermented goat secretions.”
That’s much more clear, isn’t it?
In past decisions, courts have already called this “confusion” argument what it is: Nonsense. In a lawsuit against White Wave soymilk, the court ruled that plant-based milk labels “clearly convey the basic nature and content of the beverages, while clearly distinguishing them from milk that is derived from dairy cows.”
Still, lawmakers are anxious to pander to Big Dairy, even if it gets in the way of consumer choice, free market competition, and the growth of healthier, more humane, and more sustainable industries.
At The Good Food Institute, we’re dedicated to leveling the playing field for the plant-based foods industry. As such, we have already sued the FDA for failing to disclose documents about its past enforcement of these absurd standards for milk. And on Tuesday, February 21, we delivered the signatures of more than 47,000 consumers who signed our Change.org petition making it clear to legislators that they aren't confused by soymilk labels.
This is just the first step of our goal to completely eliminate the misuse of the federal standards of identity that promote animal foods over plant-based alternatives. Right now, our policy team is preparing to file a rulemaking petition allowing labels containing modifiers such as "soy" and "almond" to be legally recognized and accepted as clear and accurate.
In short, don’t worry: We’re working to keep your soymilk safe and protect your dignity.
To learn more about GFI's work to create a just and sustainable food system, read up on what we do!