Potential changes to nut milk, plant-based meat labels

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- Several Wisconsin lawmakers are hoping to change labels for non-dairy beverages and plant-based imitation meats.

One bill would remove the word “milk” from products like almond milk, whereas another would remove the word “meat” from plant-based products, like the “Impossible Burger.” A third bill would restrict imitation dairy products from being labeled as dairy.

Consumers have reported feeling confused when it comes to alternative meats, milks and milk products, according to a national survey commissioned by Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association (WCMA), Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin and Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative. The survey found that nearly half of customers indicated that plant-based foods mimicking cheddar and mozzarella cheese were actually cheese.

“One time we tried to find an alternative sausage, but we couldn’t really figure out the box,” Elle McAteer, who was shopping at a local grocery store, said.

Other shoppers denied ever being confused.

“Other people may need it, but it’s clear to me what it is, so I don’t need the extra labeling,” Gary Wu said.

“Farmers and consumers both win,” Sen. Howard Marklein (R- Spring Green), one of the co-creators, said. He wrote to NBC15 News, “Farmers benefit from the truth in the label for food they work hard to grow and produce. Consumers benefit from the transparency of truthful labeling.”

Steph Tai, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said that farmer protection, not consumer confusion, is at the heart of the proposed legislation.

“If a consumer knows that we can use nut-based products in the same way that we’ve been using dairy-based products, then the concern from the dairy industry is that people will be substituting,” Tai said. “The same thing with plant based burgers. If people know that they could use it as an easy substitute and it tastes kind of the same, then they might just replace that, which will lead to undercutting the profits of livestock producers.”

Sen. Marklein said a hearing for the bills will likely be scheduled in the Senate toward the end of October. He added that he is not sure when the Assembly will hear the bills.