Plant-Based Guidance a ‘First Step’ Toward Labeling Transparency, NMPF Says

March 02, 2023

Long-awaited FDA guidance on plant-based beverages that encourages manufacturers of plant-based beverages to disclose their nutrient inferiority and acknowledges the public health concern of nutritional confusion over such beverages was seen as a first step toward labeling transparency by NMPF, even as the proposed guidance’s allowance of such beverages to call themselves milk spurred a vow for further action.

The guidance “falls short of ending the decades-old problem of misleading plant-based labeling using dairy terminology,” Mulhern said in a statement released shortly after FDA’s announcement Feb. 22. “By acknowledging both the utter lack of nutritional standards prevalent in plant-based beverages and the confusion over nutritional value that’s prevailed in the marketplace because of the unlawful use of dairy terms, FDA’s proposed guidance today will provide greater transparency that’s sorely needed for consumers to make informed choices.

“Still, the decision to permit such beverages to continue inappropriately using dairy terminology violates FDA’s own standards of identity, which clearly define dairy terms as animal-based products. We reject the agency’s circular logic that FDA’s past labeling enforcement inaction now justifies labeling such beverages “milk” by designating a common and usual name. Past inaction is poor precedent to justify present and future inaction.”

Integrity in the use of dairy terms has been an NMPF focus for more than four decades. Agency activity stepped up in 2018, after then-FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb pledged a fresh look at the issue. A request for comment generated more than 13,000 responses. Guidance in the aftermath of those comments was promised in 2021 and was initially expected last summer.

Mulhern, in NMPF’s statement, noted that, while accepting nutritional confusion is a key advance for dairy and consumers, without any means of enforcement, the guidance could hold little value, urging Congress to re-introduce and pass the DAIRY PRIDE Act, legislation that would mandate FDA enforcement of its own standards of identity.

“Because FDA’s proposed guidance is meaningless without action, enforcement will be necessary to ensure that this limited progress is reflected on grocery shelves,” he said. “For these reasons, we will continue our work in Congress to pass the DAIRY PRIDE Act, which would direct FDA to enforce its own rules and clarify that dairy terms are for true dairy products, not plant-based imposters.”

NMPF’s Support for DAIRY PRIDE, introduced in the Senate by a bipartisan group of senators on Feb. 28, adds another level of momentum to the effort to create labeling transparency, even as NMPF encourages dairy supporters to comment on the FDA’s guidance, which is here.

Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-WI; James Risch, R-ID; Peter Welch, D-VT; and Susan Collins, R-ME, led the reintroduction of the bill, which would require FDA to increase enforcement of existing dairy standards of identity, updated to respond to FDA’s guidance by essentially nullifying it. House re-introduction is expected in the next few weeks.

“Consumers and dairy producers, along with their allies in the nutrition and health communities, thank Sens. Baldwin, Risch, Welch and Collins for their leadership in this important public-health issue,” Mulhern said in a statement the day of the re-introduction. “We look forward to working with our Senate and House champions to enact the DAIRY PRIDE Act during the 118th Congress.”

While that debate is underway and comments are being accepted by FDA, Mulhern urged dairy farmers and consumers to speak up for labeling transparency – and pledged NMPF’s leadership in the effort.

“Consumers shouldn’t have to make choices in a marketplace that’s less than fully transparent,” he said. “And until the federal government fully lives up to its mission, NMPF will continue to lead the battle for labeling transparency.”

FDA’s proposed guidance is open for public comment here until April 24.

NMPF Submits Comments to Proposed WIC Rule

March 02, 2023

NMPF submitted comments Feb. 21 urging USDA to not include the proposed cuts to dairy in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), pointing out that reducing dairy could lower participation in the program.

“Reducing the amount of dairy available in WIC packages will decrease participants’ access to valuable nutrients needed during pivotal life stages, such as the first thousand days of a child’s life and their mother’s pregnancy and lactation, and those proposed reductions could lead to long-term negative health consequences,” NMPF said in its comments. With milk, cheese and yogurt being three of the five top redeemed items in the WIC program, NMPF is concerned reducing access to dairy will reduce participation in WIC as participants won’t be able to get the foods they value.

The rule also included some positive proposed changes, such as requiring the authorization of lactose-free milk, increasing the yogurt substitution amounts for milk and flexibilities for yogurt size containers, which are important steps to ensuring dairy and its nutrients are accessible for all WIC participants. The proposed rule was largely based on a 2017 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report that made recommendations based in part on the principle that any changes be budget-neutral; USDA’s proposal is not budget-neutral, removing one of the key justifications for following that report’s recommendations on that would reduce dairy access.

NMPF’s comments also emphasized the importance of nutritional equivalency for any plant-based alternatives that may be allowed to be substituted for dairy products.

NMPF and IDFA met with USDA last December, emphasizing the two organizations’ concerns with the proposed cuts to dairy. Both organizations will continue to monitor the situation closely.

Capitol Hill Event Adds Momentum as Consortium Keeps Busy Pace

March 02, 2023

The Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN) – an organization staffed by the NMPF trade policy team – joined Agri-Pulse in hosting a bipartisan congressional event at the U.S. Capitol to highlight the need for heightened U.S. government efforts to protect generic food and beverage terms. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Sen. Roger Marshall (R-KS), Rep. Adrian Smith (R-NE) and Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA) shared remarks at the March 1 event on the need for a robust U.S. strategy to counter the European Union’s (EU) aggressive campaign of misusing their geographical indications system to monopolize common terms like “parmesan” and “feta” for their own use.

The hybrid virtual event also featured speakers from Sartori, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, USA Rice, The Wine Institute and the North American Meat Institute. Participants highlighted that American dairy farmers and other food and beverage producers continue to lose market share overseas and face costly trademark registration battles domestically just to continuing selling their products that consumers recognize as generic.

The lawmakers and industry representatives called on the Biden Administration to take action to establish firm and clear protections for commonly used food and beverage terms to safeguard U.S. export markets. NMPF and CCFN continue to work with the U.S. Trade Representative and USDA to identify avenues of advancing a proactive U.S. strategy to protect the rights of common name food and beverage producers throughout the United States.

In addition to its March 1 event, NMPF remained active on the issue of geographic indications and the importance of allowing common cheese names in February, holding a session with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Feb. 21 for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) governments on the importance of preserving common names.

NMPF’s Jaime Castaneda, acting in his capacity as CCFN’s Executive Director, provided remarks to the APEC session attendees to underscore the negative impacts on trade and local producers when common names are restricted. CCFN members and experts rounded out the event’s speakers.

The event followed efforts on behalf of common names earlier in the year, with NMPF, in partnership with USDEC, submitting comments to USTR on Jan. 30, emphasizing its support for firm and explicit commitments assuring the future use of specific common names. The comments were in response to USTR’s request for input on its annual Special 301 review of intellectual property trade issues and supported more comprehensive comments made by the Consortium for Common Food Names (CCFN).

The European Union’s decade-long efforts to monopolize common names – like “parmesan” and “feta” – for its own producers has created a deeply one-sided playing field, restricting American producers’ ability to market and sell their products overseas. In its comments, NMPF implored the Administration to secure guarantees from trading partners that they will not abuse geographical indication rules to restrict the use of common food and beverage names.

DMC Program Starts 2023 with Sizeable Payments

March 02, 2023

The Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) program made payments for only two of the twelve months last year, but it will pay $1.56/cwt for $9.50/cwt coverage for January. The January margin was $7.94/cwt, $1.82 lower than December’s. A one-month drop of $1.60/cwt in the U.S. average all-milk price, to $23.10/cwt, accounted for most of the margin drop. A monthly rise in the soybean meal price accounted for about two-thirds of the remaining margin fall, but higher corn and premium alfalfa prices contributed lesser amounts as well.

Available forecasts currently indicate that the monthly DMC margins will remain below $9.50/cwt until September and average just below $8/cwt for this entire calendar year. Signing up $9.50/cwt coverage for the first five million pounds is always recommended as a cost-effective risk management strategy. Even last year’s two payments more than covered the annual premium cost for that level of coverage. This year will almost certainly return many times the cost of this very affordable means of managing margin risk.

NMPF Protecting Dairy in Schools

March 02, 2023

NMPF reacted positively to a proposed USDA update of school meal standards, applauding its support for low-fat flavored milk while also protecting against efforts to restrict access to the full current range of milk types offer to students.

NMPF has a long history of strong advocacy for robust nutrition programs, recognizing dairy’s unique ability to provide a dense and complex nutrition profile at one of the most affordable rates around. NMPF has been especially active in ensuring healthful dairy products can continue to be served in national school breakfast and lunch programs, with dairy playing a crucial role in ensuring kids have access to the vital nutrients they need to grow and thrive. Milk is the top source of calcium, potassium, and vitamin D for children ages 2-18.

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) on Feb. 7 published a proposed rule to update school meal standards. FNS intends for the final version of this rule to take effect for the 2024-2025 school year and apply it to all years moving forward. This proposed rule is the latest step FNS has taken to update school meal standards, a movement which started with the passage of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act in 2010.

Since 2010, multiple USDA rulemakings have intended to make school meals healthier, with NMPF working hard to ensure that changes don’t inadvertently reduce kids’ actual diet-quality and nutrient intake. This includes NMPF’s leading role in getting USDA to reinstate the low-fat flavored milk option in school meal programs after its removal by a 2012 rule. NMPF’s work here includes working closely with Chairman GT Thompson (R-PA) and Representative Joe Courtney (D-CT) over multiple congresses on their School Milk Nutrition Act, which would guarantee that schools have the choice to serve any milk variety consistent with federal dietary guidelines.

After low-fat flavored milk was allowed back in schools, NMPF continued it work to protect dairy in school meal programs, ranging from filing formal comments with FNS to working behind the scenes with the House and Senate committees responsible for child nutrition programs. NMPF was pleased to see low-fat flavored milk allowed in school meal programs in both the 2022 House Democratic child nutrition reauthorization bill and USDA’s 2022 final bridge rule on school meal standards through the 2023-24 school year.

The latest proposed rule also continues to allow low-fat flavored milk in school meals, but potentially in a more limited fashion. FNS puts forward two different options for flavored milk in its proposed rule, requesting input on both options. The first option would allow low-fat and fat-free flavored milk for either grades 6-12 or 9-12 only. The second option would maintain current standards, allowing low-fat and fat-free flavored milk for all grade levels. The proposed rule also puts forward added sugar and sodium limits that will be phased into school meals in future school years, both of which could limit varieties of school milk, yogurt, and cheese that can be served in school meal programs.

NMPF issued a joint statement with IDFA on the proposed rule, thanking USDA for continuing to allow 1% flavored milk in school meals and noting that we will carefully review other provisions in the rule to assess their impact on kids’ access to healthful dairy foods, including the added sugars and sodium limits. NMPF plans to file comments on the proposed rule by the April deadline and continuing to coordinate with IDFA on school meal standards efforts and outreach.

NMPF Co-op Members Speak at House Agriculture Committee Listening Session

March 02, 2023

Three NMPF cooperative members gave voice to critical dairy producer priorities at a bipartisan House Agriculture Committee farm bill listening session held in Tulare, CA on Feb. 14. California dairy farmers Brad Bosch, Jared Fernandes, and Tony Lopes spoke up for dairy at the session.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson, R-PA, presided, accompanied by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-CA, and Representatives David Valadao, R-CA, Jim Costa, D-CA, John Duarte, R-CA, Jimmy Panetta, D-CA, Doug LaMalfa, R-CA, Salud Carbajal, D-CA, David Rouzer, R-NC, and John Rose, R-TN. Dairy was top-of-mind as farmers and lawmakers discussed critical agricultural policies at this session held in the nation’s largest milk-producing county. All members emphasized the urgency of completing the new farm bill in a timely manner, with Chairman Thompson and Speaker McCarthy voicing support for completion of a bipartisan bill on-time this year.

“Just as NMPF appreciates the work dairy producers do every day to nourish our nation and the world, we are grateful to each of our members for taking time out of their day to attend this important session,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of NMPF. “We also thank Chairman Thompson, Speaker McCarthy, Representatives Valadao and Costa, and their colleagues for hosting today’s farm bill listening session.”

NMPF cooperative member farmers highlighted critical issues NMPF is hoping the House Agriculture Committee will consider in crafting the 2023 farm bill, including key matters related to the Federal Milk Marketing Order system, the Dairy Margin Coverage program and other risk management tools, and the important sustainability opportunities that farm bill conservation programs provide to dairy producers of all sizes.

Brad Bosch, a southern California dairy farmer and California Dairies, Inc. and Dairy Farmers of America member-owner, highlighted the work NMPF is doing to lead the dairy industry toward a consensus proposal for modernization of the Federal Milk Marketing Order system. Bosch highlighted the need to return to the previous “higher of” Class I mover formula on account of the asymmetric risk farmers bear under the current formula, as well as NMPF’s support for farm bill language to require USDA to conduct mandatory plant cost studies to provide all industry stakeholders with a better understanding of real dairy manufacturing costs.

Jared Fernandes, a third-generation dairy farmer from Tipton, California and Land O’Lakes member-owner, urged the committee to maintain and strengthen the Dairy Margin Coverage program as well as risk management tools that were previously improved in the 2018 farm bill. Fernandes also urged members to support USDA conservation programs, which provide vital support toward dairy’s ongoing sustainability efforts, and to include farmer cooperatives as part of the conservation delivery system.

Finally, Tony Lopes, a fourth-generation dairy farmer from Gustine, California and CDI and DFA member-owner, voiced appreciation for the successes included in the 2018 farm bill but also noted that recent pandemic and supply chain constraints have put a spotlight on the need to make further improvements to dairy policy. Lopes also recognized the importance of nutrition programs that feed families across the country, including dairy’s role as a nutrient powerhouse within those programs.

NMPF looks forward to working with members of Congress on these and other critical priorities as work gets underway on the farm bill this year.

U.S. Dairy Breaks Exports Record for Third Straight Year

March 02, 2023

U.S. dairy exports set new records in 2022, helped along by work from NMPF in collaboration with the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), policymakers and stakeholders who delivered on targeted policy priorities.

More than $9 billion of U.S. dairy products reached international customers in 2022, according to data finalized in February. The volume shipped accounted for 18% of total milk production. This marked the third straight record year for volume and the second for value.

In a year full of challenges, NMPF was proud to work with members and policymakers to find solutions to support dairy exporter, including:

  • Successfully pursuing solutions to the supply chain crisis, most notably on the Ocean Shipping Reform Act.
  • Defending U.S. dairy’s market access rights against barriers to trade in markets around the world including in Europe, Latin America, Canada, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.
  • Strengthening and expanding key partnerships to grow the global dairy industry’s influence with governments and organizations around the world.

NMPF Submits Comments to Healthy Rule; Emphasizes Need for Modification

March 02, 2023

NMPF submitted comments Feb. 16 urging FDA to modify the proposed rule to allow for a broader range of dairy products to qualify, including milk, cheese and yogurt at all fat levels and that contain modest amounts of added sugar.

The proposed rule aimed to update the definition of the “healthy” claim to align more closely with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. NMPF emphasized that while in theory this is a good approach, it runs the risk of ignoring the best and newest nutrition science, such as newer science on the positive and neutral impact of dairy fats. According to the 2020-2025 DGAs, nearly 90 percent of Americans under-consume dairy.

“The ability to make “healthy” claims on dairy foods holds the potential to educate consumers about dairy’s nutritional value and could improve consumption closer to DGA recommendations,” NMPF noted in its comments.

National Milk also urged FDA to take no actions which would imply that plant-based beverages are nutritionally equivalent to real dairy. Several nutrition organizations including Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Heart Association do not recommend plant-based imitators as they are not nutritionally equivalent to dairy products.

NMPF Leads Push for More Market Access

March 02, 2023

Dairy producers representing NMPF members Michigan Milk Producers Association and Agri-Mark flew to Washington on Feb. 1-2 to renew calls for a more proactive and dynamic trade policy from the U.S. government.

Organized by Farmers for Free Trade, in which NMPF is an active member, dairy producers met with members of Congress and staff serving on agriculture and trade committees this session. NMPF’s Tony Rice joined the fly-in as well and represented NMPF as part of the FFT-organized meeting with Alexis Taylor, the new USDA Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs, on Feb. 3.

NMPF and its members in each meeting stressed the importance of market access to the success of American farmers, producers and exporters, and specifically asked lawmakers to advance trade promotion authority to help make the political environment more conducive to passing trade agreements.

NMPF’s Jaime Castaneda and Shawna Morris also met with Under Secretary Taylor on Feb. 17 to address a full suite of dairy trade priorities, including the need for a more competitive landscape for U.S. dairy exporters, a robust U.S. agenda on protecting common names like “parmesan,” strong enforcement of existing trade deals, and heightened action to beat back nontariff barriers in key dairy markets around the globe.