Baldwin, Risch, dairy farmers criticize FDA plant-based beverage labeling plan |

Baldwin, Risch, dairy farmers criticize FDA plant-based beverage labeling plan

The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday announced draft recommendations for industry on the naming of plant-based foods that are marketed and sold as alternatives to milk and voluntary nutrient statements about the products, but Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, slammed the plan and dairy industry groups took slightly softer positions.
“Today’s draft guidance was developed to help address the significant increase in plant-based milk alternative products that we have seen become available in the marketplace over the past decade,” said FDA Commissioner Robert Califf. “The draft recommendations issued today should lead to providing consumers with clear labeling to give them the information they need to make informed nutrition and purchasing decisions on the products they buy for themselves and their families.”
Baldwin and Risch said FDA’s draft guidance “allows plant-based products to continue to use dairy terms despite not containing dairy, nor having the nutritional value of dairy products.”
“America’s dairy farmers work hard to produce second-to-none products with the highest nutritional value, and plant-based products should not be getting away with using their good name,” said the senators. “This misguided rule will hurt America’s dairy farmers and our rural communities. Since the FDA is failing to enforce its own definitions for dairy terminology and stop imitation products from deceiving consumers, we will be reintroducing our DAIRY PRIDE Act [the Defending Against Imitations and Replacements of Yogurt, milk, and cheese to Promote Regular Intake of Dairy Everyday Act] to stand up for America’s dairy farmers and the quality products they make.”
Baldwin and Risch added, “Current FDA regulations define dairy products as being from dairy animals. Although existing federal regulations are clear, the FDA has not enforced these labeling regulations, and the mislabeling of plant-based products as ‘milk,’ ‘yogurt,’ and ‘cheese’ has increased rapidly. Instead, the FDA today issued draft guidance that contradicts their own regulation and definitions, allowing non-dairy products to use dairy names, violating the Administrative Procedure Act, and hurting dairy farmers and producers.”
Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation, which represents dairy farmers, said, “Today’s FDA announcement is a step toward labeling integrity for consumers of dairy products, even as it falls short of ending the decades-old problem of misleading plant-based labeling using dairy terminology. By acknowledging both the utter lack of nutritional standards prevalent in plant-based beverages and the confusion over nutritional value that’s prevailed in the marketplace because of the unlawful use of dairy terms, FDA’s proposed guidance today will provide greater transparency that’s sorely needed for consumers to make informed choices.
“Still, the decision to permit such beverages to continue inappropriately using dairy terminology violates FDA’s own standards of identity, which clearly define dairy terms as animal-based products. We reject the agency’s circular logic that FDA’s past labeling enforcement inaction now justifies labeling such beverages as ‘milk’ by designating a common and usual name. Past inaction is poor precedent to justify present and future inaction.
“Because FDA’s proposed guidance is meaningless without action, enforcement will be necessary to ensure that this limited progress is reflected on grocery shelves. For these reasons, we will continue our work in Congress to pass the DAIRY PRIDE Act, which would direct FDA to enforce its own rules and clarify that dairy terms are for true dairy products, not plant-based imposters,” Mulhern concluded.
Joseph Scimeca, senior vice president of regulatory and scientific affairs for the International Dairy Foods Association, which represents processors of dairy products including plant-based milk alternatives, said, “It is important that consumers are provided with accurate information about the nutrient profiles of plant-based alternatives so that they have science-based, accurate information to decide for themselves and their families about what’s best for their diet and nutritional needs, including how the nutrients in plant-based alternatives compare to the well-established nutrient package of cow’s milk. It has been IDFA’s consistent position that it is the responsibility of the FDA to ensure product names and claims made by manufacturers of plant-based products adhere to long-standing FDA food labeling policy that label statements must be truthful and not misleading to consumers. At the same time, it is incumbent on FDA to provide verification and enforcement of voluntary claims and statements to ensure consumers are receiving accurate nutritional information and can compare the nutritional values of plant-based alternatives to traditional cow’s milk products.
“As we continue to review today’s draft guidance to industry and begin to consider formal comments within the 60-day comment period, IDFA will seek to ensure this draft guidance clears up any longstanding confusion about the nutritional quality of plant-based beverages. It is incumbent on FDA to get this policy right,” Scimeca said. “IDFA will closely review and question how the FDA plans to enforce this draft guidance to ensure information provided by companies to consumers is truthful and not misleading, and enables consumers to compare the nutritional value of plant-based alternatives to their traditional cow’s milk counterparts.
“As FDA’s consumer research demonstrates, consumers lack clarity as to the nutritional differences of plant-based alternatives versus traditional dairy counterparts, and the agency must promulgate guidance that not only adheres to its own standards of truthful and not misleading but also advances the nutrition security of Americans,” Scimeca added.
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