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Idaho dairy farmers produce more milk and cheese than almost any state in the nation. Idaho is ranked third behind California and Wisconsin.

'Dairy Farmers Are Waiting For Action,' Senators Say To FDA On Milk Labeling

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Can almond or oat beverages use the word milk on their labels? The dairy industry has been fighting for the Food and Drug Administration to say “no.” This week, a bipartisan group of senators, including Idaho Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo, signed a letter calling on FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn to “ensure that dairy terms may only be used to describe products that include dairy.”


The dairy industry has long said the FDA should reserve words like milk and cheese for products that come from dairy animals, and that these words shouldn't be used for food made out of soy or nuts, for example.


Sens. Risch and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) are also the co-sponsors of the DAIRY PRIDE Act of 2019, which would prohibit non-dairy products from using dairy terms on labels.


“Milk has this standard of identity, and so protecting that is really important for farmers and protecting the quality of the product,” said Kristi Spence of Dairy West, which promotes Idaho and Utah dairy products. 


This is part of an ongoing food fight, and it’s not just dairy at stake. Several states have recently passed restrictions on how cauliflower rice or meat substitutes like the Beyond Burger can be labeled.


Spence said consumers deserve transparency. “There’s an assumption that they’re buying something that has the exact same nutrients,” she said, “and in reality, the nutrient profile is quite different.”


Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb began a process two years ago to understand whether consumers are, in fact, mislead when plant-based alternatives use dairy terms, and if so, how to enforce the labeling of these products.


“We’re on a fast track to take a fresh look at the labeling of products that are being positioned in the marketplace as substitutes for dairy products,” Gottlieb wrote in a press release in 2018.


But that review ended almost a year ago, and shortly after Gottlieb resigned. Now legislators from dairy-producing states are pushing Hahn, who came onboard last month, to continue the action.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen 
Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio

As the south-central Idaho reporter, I cover the Magic and Wood River valleys. I also enjoy writing about issues related to health and the environment.