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Senators ask FDA to crack down on non-dairy milks, cheeses

A bipartisan group of senators is calling on the Food and Drug Association (FDA) to end the labeling of plant-based products as milk, cheese or yogurt.

In a letter to FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, the coalition of dairy-land senators urged the agency to issue rules to “ensure that dairy terms may only be used to describe products that include dairy.”

“Dairy farmers across our nation work hard to ensure their products are healthy, nutrient-dense, and in compliance with FDA regulations regarding the use of dairy terms,” the senators wrote in a letter this week.

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“Imposter products should no longer be able to get away with violating law and taking advantage of dairy’s good name,” the wrote

The signatories included Republican Sens. Jim Risch (Idaho), Mike Crapo (Idaho) and Susan Collins (Maine) and Democratic Sens. Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Patrick Leahy (Vt.) and Tina Smith (Minn.), as well as independent Sen. Angus King (Maine).

The letter is the latest attempt from dairy industry advocates to crack down on the increasingly popular plant-based alternatives to products derived from animal milk. Producers of nut, oat, soy and hemp-based milks and cheeses have cashed in as smaller American dairies falter due in part to falling domestic demand for cow milk.

Advocates for the dairy industry say plant-based products labeled as milk and cheese deceive consumers, who assume they include the same health benefits animal-derived foods.

“This is both unfair to our hardworking dairy farmers and problematic for consumers, making it harder for Americans to make educated decisions regarding what they feed themselves and their families,” the senators wrote.

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Risch and Baldwin have also co-sponsored a bill to ban products made from plants and algae from being sold as milk, cheese or yogurt.

A Republican state lawmaker has also filed a similar measure in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. 

Boosting U.S. dairy has been a bipartisan goal in Washington for decades, and lobbyists for the industry hold impressive clout among lawmakers. President Trump’s revised North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) includes a provision loosening Canadian barriers to U.S. dairy products, a longstanding goal for industry allies.

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