Commissioner Califf and Director Young:
Congratulations on your respective confirmations as Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). As you begin your roles, we would like to raise the ongoing issue of the lack of enforcement of dairy
standards of identity.
Standards of identity govern what legally constitutes specific products. They serve to protect consumers by promoting transparency, integrity, and fairness in the marketplace. Standards of identity also support a common understanding of what is in a product and its nutrient content. When a consumer purchases milk, they should know they are getting a product that is high in calcium, protein and vitamin D. Enforcement of these legal standards is crucial for consumers to make informed and meaningful decisions about the foods they purchase.
Unfortunately, for decades FDA has not enforced dairy standards of identity, creating significant consumer confusion. When dairy imitators use dairy terms to describe non-dairy products, consumers tend to correctly understand the product is plant-based while incorrectly believing the dairy imitator provides the same health benefits and nutrient profile as the dairy product. A 2018 survey of consumers found 73% believed almond-based drinks contain as much or more protein than milk. This is inaccurate, as milk has up to eight times as much protein, and American families are the victims of this confusion.
Americans feel the consequences of this consumer confusion. Medical groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, are voicing concerns over misinformed consumers unintentionally choosing less nutritious products for themselves and their families. In 2019, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Heart Association, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry issued a joint report asserting plant-based imitation products are not nutritionally equivalent to milk and in most cases should not be consumed by young children as a substitute for real dairy products.
U.S. manufacturers of plant-based products already comply with standards of identity regulations when they export their products. We urge you to seize the opportunity presented by the forthcoming guidance to move beyond the current practice of non-enforcement in the U.S. and
require everyone to simply follow the law, which requires more than simply adding a plant-based signifier to a dairy term.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter, and we are hopeful FDA’s guidance will lead to real enforcement of dairy standards of identity.
— Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, represents the state in the U.S. House. Additional Congressional members who signed the letter can be found here.=