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State seeks to protect integrity of ‘milk’ as dairy product

Posted at 4:45 p.m. on July 17, 2018

The Brillion News

MADISON – Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) Secretary Sheila Harsdorf sent a letter to Dr. Scott Gottlieb, Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, on Tuesday, July 17, expressing concern over the agency’s policies on food labeling. With an increasing number of plant-based products being marketed as milk, it is critical that FDA enforce labeling that provides clear and transparent information to consumers.

“Given agriculture’s many contributions to our state and national economies, upholding standards of identity is critical to the industry as well as beneficial to consumers,” said Harsdorf. “Without prompt action and enforcement by the FDA, we will continue to see more and more mislabeling of products, such as milk, that do not meet the FDA’s own definitions.”

In the letter, Harsdorf noted that regulators in other countries, for example, are enforcing their standards and definitions not allowing plant-based products to be labeled or marketed as milk. She emphasized that it is imperative that the United States do the same in order to not be placed at a competitive disadvantage.

“As a nation, we need honesty and accuracy in the labeling of food products and consistency in enforcement of existing standards,” added Harsdorf. “As food innovations continue to emerge, it is essential that standards of identity and labeling requirements are clear and enforced to maintain the integrity of the agricultural industry and clarity in the marketplace for consumers.”

On July 6, a letter coordinated by the Wisconsin Farm Bureau was sent to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. The letter was signed by 37 state Farm Bureaus and other agricultural groups.

The letter expressed displeasure with the lack of enforcement for labeling of imitation dairy products using the term ‘milk’ by FDA and asked for the issue to be addressed immediately.

“We organized this letter because our members are frustrated with the status quo of zero enforcement by FDA,” said WFBF President Jim Holte.

The letter listed numerous points as to why mislabeling is a huge disservice to consumers and a serious problem. Some main points from the letter were:

  1. Misleading consumers is a severe public health risk. Food Allergy Research and Education estimates that more than 15 million Americans have a food allergy, and of those, nearly 6 million are children under the age of 18. Mislabeling nut-based or imitation dairy beverages as ‘milk’ can have severe consequences.

  2. Plant-based beverages are not held to the same ‘Standards of Identity’ and yet they share in the benefits of using the term ‘milk’ on their packaging.

  3. The decision to exercise discretion in enforcement has degraded dairy’s share of the marketplace and consequently has significantly harmed the financial viability of more than 40,000 dairy farm families.

  4. Failure of the FDA to administer current regulations runs counter to the stated goal of the White House to enforce regulations and bring accountability to those who violate the rule of law. FDA is legally required to uphold the law.

Recent comments on FDA’s behalf discussed the use of plant-based beverages in the dairy aisle and acknowledged the definition of milk — the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows. The groups expressed a severe disappointment to hear the admittance that FDA has not been enforcing proper labeling for plant-based imitation dairy beverages that inappropriately use the term ‘milk’.



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