The Wisconsin state assembly committee on agriculture has just approved two dairy-industry-backed bills (click here and here) seeking to restrict terms such as ‘milk’ ‘cheese’ and ‘yogurt’ to products derived from lactating hooved animals, regardless of whether brands are using qualifying terms such as 'plant-based,' 'vegan' or 'dairy-free.'
A third bill, backed by several local meat industry associations, and clearly aimed at cell-cultured as well as plant-based meat, says any food “labeled as any type of meat product, ‘meat,’ or a similar term,” must be derived from animal flesh (and not the cell-cultured variety).
The two dairy laws – which passed in the Assembly last year but ran out of time in the Senate - can only come into effect if at least 10 states out of 15 states listed in the bills enact similar legislation by June 30, 2031. Final approval now rests with the full Assembly and Senate.
Wisconsin lawmakers: Consumers are confused by plant-based milk, meat, labels
In a memo from lawmakers sponsoring the dairy bills, which will require plant-based milks to be labeled as ‘drink’ or ‘beverage,’ Sen. Howard Marklein and Rep Travis Tranel allege consumer confusion.
“In a recent study conducted by the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative and the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, nearly half of consumers mistook a plant-based food mimicking cheddar or mozzarella cheese to be traditional cheddar or mozzarella cheese, or were unclear about applying these traditional cheese names to plant-based foods.”
They also introduce the issue of nutritional equivalence, asserting that consumers expect plant-based products to match or exceed the nutrition of dairy milk.
In a memo from Sen. Marklein and Rep. Moses about the meat bill, the lawmakers argue, without citing any specific data or study, that strategies such as merchandising plant-based meats in the regular meat case “not only hurt the Wisconsin meat and agriculture industry, but mislead and confuse the consumer.”
PBFA: Bills are 'unnecessary, unconstitutional, and misguided'
The Dairy Business Association - which represents farmers, milk processors, and other dairy industry stakeholders in Wisconsin - welcomed the proposed legislation: “Variety can be a good thing; dishonesty is not.”
However, Michael Robbins, policy & media consultant at the Plant Based Foods Association, told FoodNavigator-USA that these “anti-competitive, anti-free market” bills – the latest in a series of laws backed by dairy and cattle industry groups across the country – were “unnecessary, unconstitutional, and misguided,” and effectively a solution in search of a problem.
As presently drafted, the “bills present a misguided attack on innovation and all food producers’ free speech rights to use words and phrases that consumers understand,” argues the PBFA, which said its members use clear qualifiers on their products such as ‘vegan,’ dairy-free,’ or ‘plant-based,’ and use terms such as ‘milk’ or ‘cheese’ so consumers know how to use their products.
Impossible Foods: 'These bills are frankly asinine and have nothing to do with consumer confusion'
Given that many consumers are buying plant-based meat – which typically comes with a premium price tag – precisely because it is not derived from animals, it’s hardly in companies’ interests to conceal this fact, Impossible Foods chief communications officer Rachel Konrad told us in a recent interview.
“Consumers aren’t confused... This is about an incumbent, doomed, gross polluting industry trying to do whatever it can to slow down the ascent of a new technology that is better for the people and for the planet.”
The Good Food Institute (GFI), a nonprofit that promotes plant-based and cell-based meat, said it hoped that legislators “will focus on bigger priorities than the imaginary crisis of people confusing veggie burgers for hamburgers.”
- Read more HERE about state bills targeting meat, dairy terms, and look out for our interview with Tofurky CEO Jaime Athos about his company's take on plant-based food labeling on FoodNavigator-USA in the coming days.