I hope you’re sitting down. Because if you’ve never heard of the Dairy Pride Act or the fuckery that’s recently taken place in Wisconsin, your head is about to start spinning.
OK, first let’s start with this: Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that the meat and dairy industries are desperately trying to thwart the booming sales of vegan products by urging politicians in big ag states to pass laws that ban companies like Tofurky from using specific words such as “meat” on their product labels. This has already happened in states like Missouri and Mississippi. Lawsuits challenging these ridiculous laws have been promptly and rightly filed.
But this isn’t just happening on the state level. In 2017, a group of bipartisan US senators led by Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin introduced a bill called the Dairy Pride Act. If passed, this bill would mandate that the FDA strongly regulate words such as “milk,” “cheese,” and “butter” to ensure that only products that come from animals be labeled as such. It would basically make it illegal to call soy milk, “soy milk” – and it would prohibit the sale of any vegan product that uses these words on its packaging.
This bill, which I was stunned to find was co-sponsored by Senator Elizabeth Warren, was thankfully not passed. But then it showed up again when it was reintroduced in March of this year. This time Senator Warren did not appear as a co-sponsor, though whether or not she still supports the bill is an open question. I called and wrote her office but have not gotten a response.
Before we go further, I want to take a moment and ask why Senator Elizabeth Warren, someone who has been a vocal opponent of corporate greed and also a strong voice for combatting climate change, would support such an odious bill? You’ll recall she both originated and led the formation of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under President Obama. Why would a veteran consumer advocate now side with the billion-dollar corporate bullies of big ag – whose factory farms decimate the environment – over small vegan start-ups who use a fraction of the resources and produce significantly less greenhouse gases? Anyone serious about climate change should be championing vegan alternatives to dairy, not trying to damage their sales. (Warren did recently blast big ag for their vicious attack on JUST’s eggless mayo, so maybe that’s a promising sign she’s evolved on the issue and why she’s no longer listed as a co-sponsor of the Dairy Pride Act.)
OK, back to the shit. Things took a very nasty turn this April when Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection instructed all retailers in the state to pull any vegan product that used the word “butter” off the shelves. This was largely in response to the success of Miyoko’s vegan butter and resulted in the product being removed from stores. For two months, Miyoko’s butter was banned from being sold in Wisconsin until Miyoko Schinner offered a compromise of having stores affix a sticker to her butter that said “vegetable spread.” After weeks of deliberation, the state approved the label.
So, for two whole months it was actually easier to buy a gun in Wisconsin than Miyoko’s vegan butter – wrap your head around that.
All of this can be boiled down to one simple, revealing truth: The dairy industry is scared shitless. The fact is that dairy is dying. In 2018, The Dairy Farmers of America reported that sales were down over a billion dollars. Additionally, more than 2,000 dairy farms shut down last year, the majority of them being in – you guessed it – Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, vegan alternatives to dairy continue to soar in popularity and sales. Research firm Nielsen reported that in 2018 plant-based alternatives to dairy spiked considerably in sales; vegan cheese was up 35 percent, vegan yogurt up 31 percent, and vegan cream up 25 percent.
Instead of this insidious attack on free speech, the dairy industry should take a tip from companies like Elmhust who modernized their dairy business after 90 years by shutting their doors and reopening as a plant-based company. This was a wise decision after suffering years of losses desperately trying to still make dairy happen.
The ultimate fate of these embarrassing food labeling laws will be settled in the courts, but they demonstrate how far big ag will actually go to try and hurt the success of vegan businesses. The truth is words like “butter” and “milk” have been used to refer to products that don’t come from animals for years. Shea butter, anyone? Coconut milk? Can we not say those things anymore either?
While I’m not shocked to see a Wisconsin senator backing the Dairy Pride Act, it pains me to see other Democrats, especially Senator Elizabeth Warren, onboard big dairy’s bullshit train. Any politician who cares about safeguarding the environment, small businesses, and, dare I say it, animals, should take a strong stance against this nonsense.