Don’t tread on my milk. At least that’s what non-cow milk companies are telling the U.S. government in light of proposed legislation to regulate "milk" products.

But why is the government trying to regulate the definition of milk anyway? It looks like it may be just another bout of protectionist government intrusion.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines milk as a dairy product that is exclusively produced by cows, and therefore excludes milk from other mammals and plants such goat and almond milk.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) claims that because the FDA does not enforce this definition, the agency has subjected the cow milk industry to declining sales. She proposed a bill that would require the FDA to enforce the agency’s cow-exclusive definition of milk. The bill, known as the Dairy Pride Act, is now in committee and if it were to move forward, it could be particularly harmful to consumers.

Without coincidence, Baldwin is from Wisconsin, a state whose economy heavily relies on milk produced from cows. And what Baldwin and supporters of the Dairy Pride Act aren’t telling you about this legislation is that it has almost nothing to do with how their competitors are labeled.

In fact, cow milk sales have been on the decline for the past three decades. The industry faced turmoil in recent years due to overproduction. The bill is a direct "solution" to the perceived problem with cow milk's competition, mainly non-dairy alternatives. The Dairy Pride Act argues that labeling plant-based or other non-cow milk products as milk is "misleading" to consumers.

Not only does the proposed legislation directly target non-cow and plant-based dairy products, but supporters of the bill are peddling the same protectionist talking points.

The CEO of A2 Milk, Blake Waltrip, claims that cow milk provides more nutritional benefits than their competitors, and since alternatives to cow milk are still labeled as milk they mislead consumers.

“There is a definition of milk. It’s not milk if it comes from a plant, nut, seed, or anything like that,” Balke said. A2, a cow milk company whose product carriers additional proteins, doesn’t want consumers assuming that alternatives to cow milk carry the same benefits. According to Blake, the Dairy Pride Act helps companies like his because the health benefits will be obvious to consumers.

But critics of the bill question if the government needs to regulate this issue, and if it’s even an issue for consumers in the first place.

The Plant-Based Food Association directly responded to the introduction of the Dairy Pride Act, defending their members’ alternatives in the marketplace and calling the targeting by their critics “attacks.”

“Our members are proud to offer a wide array of innovative and sustainable food options that consumers are seeking out for many reasons. We reject these attacks by the dairy industry and look forward to a more constructive conversation that ensures consumers are able to access the delicious plant-based options they desire,” the statement asserted.

It’s safe to assume that consumers of non-cow dairy products know what they’re buying, something the Dairy Pride Act doesn’t acknowledge. Consumers have purchased goat milk products, almond milk, and coconut milk, in their own right, for decades. Oftentimes, these consumer choices are made for various personal dietary, social, or taste reasons and are not done out of ignorance.

But at the end of the day, this isn’t really about nutrition or informing consumers. After all, one of the assumptions behind the bill is that consumers don’t read nutrition labels that illustrate non-cow milk ingredients.

Enforcing such a regulation would cost the FDA more taxpayer dollars, result in excessive businesses costs to re-brand “incorrectly” labeled products, and confuse consumers with new product names. Those are just a few of the consequences of the Dairy Pride Act, and they clearly don’t benefit consumers. They benefit the cow milk companies that are pushing Baldwin to champion the bill.

Not only is this bill a federal government overreach, but it would cushion an industry that’s already on a downward trend. Does the Federal government really need to use taxpayer dollars to force a crony definition of milk, or can consumers determine which products they want on their own?

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