Natural Foods Merchandiser

Proposed legislation would extend country-of-origin labeling to dairy products

A proposal to mandate country-of-origin labeling for all dairy products has drawn criticism from the International Dairy Foods Association. But groups representing organic dairy producers and family farms say the legislation will be a boost for domestic organic dairy farmers.

The proposed legislation, introduced by Senators Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; Russ Feingold, D-Wis.; and Al Franken, D-Minn, would require labeling for milk, cheese, ice cream and butter. When the labeling requirement was introduced last year, it included meats, nuts and raw produce but exempted dairy and processed foods. The new bill retains the exemption for processed food.

The senators said the dairy labeling bill would provide information to consumers about where their food was produced and at the same time would help dairy farmers who have been hit by low milk prices. “The bill supports both families and farmers by requiring country-of-origin labeling on all dairy products,” Brown said. “With increasing dairy imports, country-of-origin labeling provides critical information as households decide how to feed their families. Franken said the bill would “help American dairy farmers stand out in a crowded marketplace. They need every tool at their disposal to weather the current dairy crisis.”

Ward Burroughs, second vice president of the Western Organic Dairy Producers Alliance, sees the proposal as "a positive and important move for the whole industry, conventional as well as organic dairy producers."

Joe Peck, executive director of Madison, Wis.-based Family Farm Defenders, which works to create a farmer-controlled and consumer-oriented food system, agreed, adding, “We’ve been bugging them to do this for years.”

He said reports of milk from China being contaminated with melamine likely spurred the proposal. “They’ve been importing all this melamine in milk from China – people don’t want to be eating that.”

Labeling requirements will “help organic dairy farmers,” said Peck. “Consumers want truth in labeling. This will be a huge boon to domestic production.”

But the Washington, D.C.-based IDFA, which represents 550 U.S. dairy manufacturers, marketers and suppliers, called the bill “misguided,” arguing that it would have the opposite effect on dairy farmers.

“This legislation…would do nothing to help America’s dairy farmers,” said Jerry Sliminski, senior vice president of legislative affairs and economic policy. “Imposing additional labeling mandates on dairy products, which are not imposed on other processed foods, will reduce demand for dairy products and encourage food manufacturers to substitute vegetable-based or other protein ingredients instead of dairy ingredients.”

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