Edge co-op disappointed in FDA draft guidance on product labeling

Dairy Strong conference 2019

Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative says it’s disappointed that the FDA would continue to allow certain plant-based products to be marketed as milk. 

The federal agency has released its latest draft guidance document on labeling of plant-based milk alternatives and voluntary nutrient statements, opening up a two-month comment period. 

Despite disagreeing with the agency’s stance on how such products should be labeled, Edge says the release of the draft guidance is a step forward. The group’s president, Brody Stapel, says the Green Bay-based co-op will submit comments “to express the importance of accurate labeling of plant-based milk alternatives” for both consumers and farmers. 

Edge and other Wisconsin dairy groups including the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation have previously argued against labeling plant-based products as milk and other dairy products, claiming such marketing is misleading. The new draft guidance only covers milk, the co-op notes. 

In a release yesterday, Stapel (pictured here) argued “inferior products” have capitalized on the work dairy producers have done to invest in the dairy brand. 

“Accurate labeling of imitation dairy products, especially milk, has frustrated dairy farmers for far too long,” Stapel said. “The nutritional benefits of dairy products are superior to imitation products, and consumers should be well-informed using proper labeling and terms.” 

But the co-op also says it appreciates the FDA noting that consumers “generally do not understand” the nutritional differences between dairy milk and other products made from plants and seeds. According to the release, the agency is recommending voluntary nutrient statements for labeling such alternative products that compare them with dairy milk. 

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin is slamming the FDA for its “ill-advised guidance on the unfair use of dairy terms to mislabel” plant-based products. 

In a joint release with GOP U.S. Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, the Madison Dem pledged to reintroduce legislation that would require the agency to issue guidance for “nationwide enforcement of mislabeled plant-based products” within 90 days and add reporting requirements. 

“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,” the lawmakers wrote. “This misguided rule will hurt America’s dairy farmers and our rural communities.” 

In a separate statement yesterday, WFPF President Kevin Krentz said the ag group supports Baldwin’s DAIRY PRIDE Act. 

“In this case, federal regulations are clear and FDA still chose to issue guidance in conflict with their own definitions, hurting Wisconsin farmers in the process,” he said. “If federal agencies are going to ignore their own regulations, Congress must act to force compliance and protect farmers.” 

See Edge’s release: https://www.wispolitics.com/2023/edge-dairy-farmer-cooperative-reacts-to-fda-guidance-on-milk-alternatives 

See Baldwin’s release: https://www.baldwin.senate.gov/news/press-releases/senators-baldwin-and-risch-slam-fdas-anti-dairy-guidance 

See the WFBF release: https://wfbf.com/farm-bureau-news/wisconsin-farm-bureau-statement-on-fda-enforcement-of-food-labeling-standards/ 

See the draft guidance: https://www.fda.gov/regulatory-information/search-fda-guidance-documents/draft-guidance-industry-labeling-plant-based-milk-alternatives-and-voluntary-nutrient-statements

–By Alex Moe