Dairy Industry in Decline
The dairy industry is shaking in its boots, and the new Dairy Act shows just how desperate they are. The popularity of plant-based dairy alternatives continues to skyrocket, while their own outlook is dire. According to a recent Nielsen survey, plant-based milks have experienced a 250 percent growth spurt in just five years while sales of dairy milk continue to decline. The truth is self-evident: the desire for dairy products is waning.
Last month, Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) introduced a law that would restrict plant-based products from using terms like milk, cheese and yogurt. Baldwin claims it misleads consumers and undermines the integrity of the dairy industry. The law, called Defending Against Imitations and Replacements of Yogurt, milk, and cheese to Promote Regular Intake of Dairy Everyday Act (DAIRY PRIDE Act), has the support of dairy farmers and producers across the state of Wisconsin whom are feeling the pinch.
The Dairy Pride Act encourages the FDA to enforce the legal interpretation of the word dairy, ‘lacteal secretion obtained by the milking of one or more healthy cows.’ The law would also expand this definition to include all hoofed animals. It’s hard to imagine an industry choosing to be associated with this kind of appetite-destroying imagery. It shows how desperate they are to regain their footing in a world where consumers are kicking the dairy habit.
Linguistics and Legality
Is the Dairy Act really necessary? Do consumers actually have trouble differentiating cow’s milk from its plant-based counterparts? Probably not, but other federal lawmakers who sent a letter to the FDA last December believe plant-based milks are misleading their customers about the nutrition contained therein. “Milk, produced by the mammary gland, … has a unique nutritional value” which the competition, they say, is “unable to match.” But even that argument struggles to hold its own. Cheddar cheese, for example, may have more calcium and protein than plant-based options. Yet cheddar cheese also has more cholesterol, saturated fat and calories, so which is more nutritious after all?
Baldwin and the Dairy Act do have two precedents on their side, albeit barely. In 2008 and 2012, the FDA chided two manufacturers of soy milk for inappropriate labeling. Some dairy-free companies carefully chose their wording to avoid such labyrinthine-legality, opting for ‘cheezecake’ or ‘coconut milk product’ to be on the safe side. However, the majority of plant-based products have received no such remarks – yet. Nor do peanut butter producers get any flack over the word butter, as Politifact points out.
A Dairy-Free Future
Agricultural industries have long had a strong influence on government, often at the expense of America’s health. It’s no surprise they continue to do so now. While the downturn of milk consumption is not a new trend – in fact, it’s been on decline for over 40 years – the industry and its supporters still try to squash the competition with underhanded strategies.
In a comparable low-ball move, conglomerate Unilever (in cahoots with the egg industry and USDA) tried to sue little-guy Hampton Creek in 2014 over similar linguistic ambiguity regarding the term ‘mayo.’ The lawsuit cited false advertising and unfair competition. Yet two months later, Unilever dropped the suit. They even applauded Hampton Creek’s commitment to innovation and developing sustainable food products. A few months after, Unilever’s Hellmann’s brand introduced their own vegan mayo spread.
Let’s hope the dairy industry will take this as piece of advice: you can’t beat us, so you might as well join us.