Editor’s Plate: Consumers Aren’t Stupid

May 11, 2021
The Dairy Pride Act is all pride and no science or logic.

Did you know almond milk does not come from “the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows’’? Of course you did, you’re in the food & beverage industry. But such sciencey stuff is probably lost on consumers.

Come on!

To think that using dairy terms for plant-based products confuses consumers ... well, it would take a member of Congress to assume that. Four members, actually, and maybe a few more as cosponsors, but certainly not the 218 required to pass a bill in the House and the 51 needed in the Senate. Plus the guy at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

I guess it’s our duty to report, as we do here, that the Dairy Pride Act was introduced in a bipartisan way in both houses of Congress in April. Sponsors are representatives in lactose-heavy states: Representatives Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), and Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho). The bill requires the FDA to take enforcement action against manufacturers labeling non-dairy products as dairy.

DAIRY PRIDE (they use all capital letters in an extreme stretch for an acronym) is the perfect title for this piece of legislation, because it is indeed based on hurt pride but neither science nor common sense. First off, you gotta love the titles those Congresspeople come up with for legislation these days. The unabridged title is the ‘‘Defending Against Imitations and Replacements of Yogurt, milk, and cheese to Promote Regular Intake of Dairy Everyday” act. Sheesh. How many dictionaries and thesauruses do you think they went through to get just the right letters?

By the way, sesame will soon join the list of allergens by way of the FASTER Act (S.3451), an acronym for Food Allergy Safety, Treatment and Research Act. Sheesh again.

The Dairy Pride Act cites dairy’s inherent calcium, potassium, magnesium and vitamin D as key nutrients that Americans don’t consume enough of. Actually, that last one, vitamin D, is not so inherent – it has to added to milk to improve the body’s absorption of calcium and it may help the others work, too. The point is, the vitamin D is added, a fortification, much like iron in flour and, for that matter, fluoride in tap water. Sometimes, rules are good.

The Congresspeople do have one valid point: They simply want the FDA to enforce existing rules. I’ve never been fond of allowing obsolete laws to remain in place, with the practical remedy being officials just look the other way. FDA and USDA have hundreds of standards of identity for food products, many of which they intentionally no longer enforce – not because of laxity but because of technology. Following incidents of adulteration, or simply milk being diluted with water, during the 1930s Great Depression, the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938 called for the agencies to define what constitutes ice cream, ham and many other products. Back then, consumers weren’t as smart; even if they were, it would be difficult to tell your milk was watered down.

Are you old enough to remember the term “ice milk”? Despite it being healthier for you, the low-fat frozen dessert for decades couldn’t be marketed as ice cream if it didn’t include cream and the minimal content of milkfat. Rule are rules, health be damned, until someone saw the idiocy of that rule.

Similar debates are raging in several state legislatures over labels for analogue “meats.”

I see two good ideas emerging from this protectionist proposal. One is to force FDA and USDA to revisit standards of identity and other rules that are obsolete and drop or change them. The other would be for FDA to consider what is so good about dairy products and mandate that replacement products have the same amounts of protein, calcium, etc., so consumers – most of whom are making conscious decisions – can replace their dairy products and get the same nutrition.

If only some Congressperson would sponsor my proposed piece of legislation: the Edict Not to Diss Imbibed Dairy but Include Other Calcium Yields – the END IDIOCY Act.

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