Every now and then I like to get soy milk in my coffee instead of the usual skim milk. I have no misconceptions about the product's origins or nutritional value, yet the dairy industry is so worried that consumers like me are being misled by alternatives such as soy, almond, or rice "milk" that it wants the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to crack down on non-dairy milk substitutes, the Associated Press reports.
"Standards of identity" for food are requirements mandated by the FDA regarding what specifications a food product must meet in order to use a certain label. These regulations are justified as necessary to protect the consumer.
The standard of identity for milk is rather extensive, but in short, it requires that it be "obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows." As Jim Mulhern, president of the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), insisted in the AP report, "Mammals produce milk, plants don't."
The group has for decades asked the FDA to do something about this problem. Now, the NMPF might finally get its wish. A bill was recently introduced to the Senate that would require the FDA to enforce the standard of identity rule. The bill, coyly titled the Defending Against Imitations and Replacements of Yogurt, Milk, and Cheese To Promote Regular Intake of Dairy Everyday Act (or the DAIRY PRIDE Act, for short), was unsurprisingly sponsored by Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat hailing from Wisconsin. A similar bill has been introduced to the U.S. House by Reps. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), and Sean Duffy (R-Wisc.).
Supporters of the DAIRY PRIDE Act claim that over 80 percent of Americans are not meeting the recommended daily dairy intake, and say imitation dairy products do not have the same nutritional value as their "authentic" counterpart. Furthermore, the NMPF complains in a press release that the FDA's lax enforcement "hurts dairy farmers that work tirelessly to ensure their dairy products meet FDA standards and provide the public with nutritious food."
In a letter dated February 2000, NMPF Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Robert D. Byrne decried that soy products were actively competing against the dairy industry. "In many instances, these soy-based beverage products are positioned on the grocery shelf alongside milk and other dairy products in a clear attempt to compete with dairy products as a beverage," he wrote. "In addition, the labeling of soy beverages and accompanying marketing language attempt to portray to consumers that these products are, in fact, dairy-like products by using the term 'milk' on the label."
At least he was honest about the motivations for this push.