Got soy milk? Don't let Congress, dairy industry bogart 'milk' label
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“Got Milk?” is one of the most enduring advertising campaigns in American history. When the slogan first launched in 1993, plant-based milk options weren’t as readily available as they are today.

Walk into any grocery store or Starbucks, and in addition to whole, 2 percent, and nonfat cow’s milk, you’ll also find soy, almond, and coconut milk. The more the merrier from the perspective of countless companies that see opportunities to innovate and respond to market demand.

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Yet recent legislative efforts in both the Senate and House run counter to this spirit of free enterprise and consumer choice.

 

The DAIRY PRIDE Act – introduced by Senator Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinDemocrats try to force Trump to boost medical supplies production Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Biden: I'll have a running mate picked next week MORE and Congressman Peter WelchPeter Francis WelchVermont has a chance to show how bipartisanship can tackle systemic racism National Retail Federation hosts virtual 'store tours' for lawmakers amid coronavirus Democrats roll out national plan to reopen America MORE – would force the Food and Drug Administration to go after companies that manufacture any and all plant-based milks (or cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and the like) and punish them for using such terms on packaging and branding.

It’s a bill that has the dairy industry cheering, but everyone else should be steamed. The root of the problem lies in archaic and arcane “standards of identity” — a Depression-era holdover designed to dictate what a wide range of food products must (or must not) contain. These standards can get astonishingly detailed and prescriptive, down to the percentage of ingredients, as well as restrictions on shape, size, and texture.

While these overly narrow formulations and definitions may have served a purpose when they were created, markets have changed, technology has advanced by leaps and bounds, food labeling law has progressed, and consumer preferences have evolved, paving the way for growth in new industries.

The standard of identity for milk is so nonsensical that even goat’s milk or sheep’s milk wouldn’t qualify as “milk.”

Were the Dairy Pride Act to be signed into law, it would signify a disturbing case of government overreach.

We are a nation that rightly and profoundly values free speech, and that includes commercial free speech. The government doesn’t get to intervene and prohibit commercial free speech simply for the sake of ensuring higher dairy industry profits at the expense of plant-based competition.  

Consumers clearly agree. Milk options abound in grocery stores and cafés across the country. This proliferation of options is a testament to free market ingenuity. And why shouldn’t a consumer be able to scan a grocery shelf and quickly spot a favorite brand of soymilk?

Would it be preferable for consumers to have to decipher what vague, confusing, and in some cases, outright misleading phrases like “coconut liquid,” “almond juice,” and “soy beverage” actually mean?

People choose plant-based milks for a wide range of reasons; some preferences stem from health or nutrition (lack of cholesterol, for example, or lactose intolerance); some people simply prefer the taste.

There’s a certain paternalistic arrogance in presuming consumers can’t make informed choices on their own and need the government to tell them what’s what and rescue them from their confusion.

“Got big government?” doesn’t have the same ring as “Got milk?”, but you get the picture.  Enforcing outdated and rigid standards of identity — with no consideration for the consequences and complications entailed — is an idea that needs to be put out to pasture.

Joanna Grossman is the Senior Policy Specialist for The Good Food Institute, a nonprofit that promotes alternatives to animal agriculture.


The views of contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.