Sales of U.S. plant-based protein products have increased recently: 2018 saw a 22% increase with a total gross of $1.5 billion that year. Due to this success, the animal product industry is leveraging their power by influencing federal and state legislature. They do so by forming cooperatives which back industry groups and bureaus in order to lobby the Senate and Congress. The cattle ranchers and farm bureaus want to secure the word “meat” as their own in hopes of eliminating this new competition. Many groups are pushing for “meat” labeling laws in their state. For example, the group: Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska has testified in support of meat-labeling legislation.
In early 2019, more than a dozen states introduced labeling laws making it illegal for plant-based or lab grown protein products to use the “meat” label. Luckily, public advocacy groups such as the ACLU and Plant Based Foods Association have filed lawsuits in three states. They assert that these state labeling laws are unconstitutional because of the First Amendment rights to free speech.
The Dairy Pride Act of 2017 claims that plant-based milks are “imitations” and cannot be labeled as “milk.” It states: “This bill amends the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to prohibit the sale of any food that uses the market name of a dairy product, is not the milk of a hooved animal, is not derived from such milk, and does not contain such milk as a primary ingredient.” Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA.) campaigns with a supposed progressive platform, yet she openly supports this bill. The Dairy Pride Act does not shy away from claiming its purpose: to promote the profitability of “dairy” products. This is evident because it also states its goal is to “Promote Regular Intake of Dairy.” It is not surprising that a Senator from Wisconsin - the “dairy” capital of the U.S. - sponsored this bill (Sen. Tammy Baldwin-D.). It’s clear these Democratic Senators support the bill due to the “dairy” industry’s influence and lobbying efforts. What may surprise the public: supposed progressive Democrats are highly influenced by corporate interests.
The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) is a key agribusiness industry group which aims to solidify “milk” labeling as inherent to cow’s milk only. NMPF represents the majority of “dairy” marketing cooperatives in the U.S. They claim that other products labeled “milk” are somehow profiting off the term “milk,” and thus, profiting off the “dairy” industry’s existence throughout history. It is common knowledge the alternative term to “milk” or “juice” in food labeling policy is “beverage.” Companies shy away from the term “beverage” because it does not have healthy connotations, and the “dairy” industry seeks to eliminate competition in the market. The NMPF states: “The federal definition of ‘milk’ dictates that the product must have come from a lactating animal. Today, many imitation dairy ‘beverages’ skirt these regulations and continually label their products using dairy terms and imagery when these items are not at all similar to real cow’s milk.”