A couple of months ago, Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) introduced the “DAIRY PRIDE” Act into Congress. The bill, now in committee, aims to cut the legs out of the rapidly growing plant-based industry by preventing items like almond milk, soymilk, or cashew cheese from using dairy-related names.
However, the DAIRY PRIDE act is a poorly constructed bill that takes down swaths of other products alongside plant-based dairy and may even be unconstitutional in the first place, all while doing nothing to help the milk industry recover sales numbers, which is the whole aim of writing and introducing this bill in the first place.
The milk industry has been on a long trend of decline over the past 30 years. According to the Journal Sentinel, milk consumption has now fallen to 50% as sales tumbled over the past three decades. Following an increase in milk production due to shortages in the supply two years ago, massive excesses of milk now exist. The Wall Street Journal reports that this has led to a 36% drop in milk prices since 2014 and has forced farmers to dump over 43 million gallons of milk that they were unable to sell off last year.
Big milk would like to see that milk be sold rather than discarded, but consumers aren’t buying milk as much as they used to. So far, they’ve been able to work with the food industry to create cheesier products to use up some of the surplus, but it hasn’t been enough to prevent that milk from being lost.
To recover sales and prevent more milk dumping, big dairy needed to do something drastic. With plant-based dairy rapidly growing and eclipsing $5 billion in market value for the first time, it’s become a target for the milk industry. A bill like this is definitely a welcome boon to the dairy industry as a result.
However, there are a plethora of issues that this bill has that make it ineffective, weak, and possibly unconstitutional.
The bill cites the FDA definition of milk, unchanged since 1938, that is specific to only cows.
“Milk is the lactereal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows.”
The DAIRY PRIDE Act aims to strictly enforce this definition. In doing so, plant-based dairy isn’t the only product category that has to change names. Peanut butter and goat cheese would both have to change names to be called something like “Peanut paste” or “goat curds.” Yum.
The bill does get more specific, however, when it targets plant-based dairy multiple times in the opening section of the act, directly calling out plant-based dairy labels as being “misleading to consumers.”
“Imitation dairy products, such as plant-based products derived from rice, nuts, soybeans, hemp, coconut, algae, and other foods that imitate milk, yogurt, and cheese, often do not provide the same nutrition content as real milk, cheese, and yogurt derived from dairy cows.”
As such, the act specifically goes after the plant-based industry and specifically calls them out in the act as “confusing” customers when it clearly doesn’t. We know that soy milk is soy and almond milk is almonds, and to anyone who says consumers can’t read a nutrition label is underestimating the intelligence of consumers. Almond-derived juice would be the basic alternative name, which just sounds… weird. That’s what proponents of the DAIRY PRIDE Act want, though, since it doesn’t sound as appealing. Removing the label doesn’t benefit consumers who are used to the name to begin with.
What’s more, the DAIRY PRIDE Act isn’t just misleading on its own, it may also be unconstitutional. The Good Food Institute wrote a public statement condemning the DAIRY PRIDE Act as “pandering to the dairy industry” through censorship.
“The government is only allowed to restrict commercial free speech if there is substantial government interest in doing so. Simply pandering to the dairy industry does not qualify as a good reason, therefore this legislation would be in violation of the First Amendment.”
Basically, Congress has a choice: pass this law and kill a rapidly growing and innovative industry in a feeble attempt to preserve the death of an already declining one, or leave the law be. If the DAIRY PRIDE act is dropped, plant-based dairy will be allowed to thrive while milk sales would continue to drop, which means farmers just need to produce less milk. They can sell the beef or switch to alternatives.
There is no substantial government interest in enforcing this rule because it does nothing to save the milk industry and is honestly just blatant censorship.
If Congress wants to avoid a meaningless legal battle and prevent their public perception of corruption to fester even more, they should not let this bill leave committee.