There must not be a whole lot for Congress to do this week.
On Wednesday, the Senate voted down an amendment from Sen. Mike Lee, a libertarian Republican from Utah, to prevent the Food and Drug Administration from using government funds to enforce its “standards of identity” with regards to plant-based foods that use the name—milk, cheese, etc.—of the animal-based food they’re mimicking. (The amendment was co-sponsored by Democrat Cory Booker, a vegan.)
This has been a big fight for nearly as long as things like almond and cashew milk have existed, and it’s only gotten more heated as dairy profits have plummeted and alternatives have become more popular; in May, CNBC reported that milk sales fell 3.5 percent from 2013 to 2017, while dairy-free milk sales rose 4 percent over the same period.
Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who forcefully opposed Lee’s bill and reportedly called it an “attack on dairy farmers,” has even introduced something called the DAIRY PRIDE Act that would define a dairy product as being “obtained by the complete milking of one or more hooved mammals.” Hooved mammals!
Lee, of course, opposes this for the most libertarian shit ever: he wants more disruption in the dairy industry. As his office wrote in a blog post last week entitled “The War on Almond Milk”:
The truth is that these labeling requirements play right into the hands of the large, cronyist food industries that want to place new, innovative products at a disadvantage. Because after becoming established and reaching success themselves, they aim to pull up the ladder behind them – preventing any of the small competitors from having a chance in a level playing field. Rather than playing fair and square, they stifle competition and rig the rules of the game in their favor.
Still, Lee has a pretty good point: people, especially those who are lactose intolerant or vegan, buy plant-based milk not because they’re being tricked into it, but because they do not want to drink animal-based milk. “Consumers are not deceived by these labels,” Lee said. “No one buys almond milk under the false illusion that it came from a cow. They buy it because it didn’t come from a cow.”
For now, it looks like the Trump administration is on Baldwin’s side. In July, FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said at a Politico Pro summit that his office hasn’t been enforcing its “own standard of identity,” and implied that his office would move to force companies to stop marketing plant-based alternatives as milk.
“There is a reference somewhere in the standard of identity to a lactating animal,” Gottlieb said at the event. “And you know, an almond doesn’t lactate, I will confess.” Thanks, Scott.