Labeling of Plant-Based Products

Written By: Tawny Tesconi, Executive Director
Published: March 4, 2019

Our advocacy article in this month’s publication discusses the ongoing debate over the labeling of plant-based products as “milk” and other descriptors for non-milk products that suggest a faux product is made from mother’s milk. Farm Bureau nationally represents farmers on both sides of the commodity fence, but here in Sonoma County; our agriculture heritage is based strongly in milk production.

I love dairies, and I also have an affinity for our vegetable growers, but I believe we need to be transparent to our consumers. Any food product that insinuates that it has the nutritional value of milk should contain milk. If you don’t believe me, look up the definition of milk in Webster’s dictionary.

At the end of 2018, Petaluma’s City Council on a 5-2 vote (councilmembers Miller and Albertson were dissenting votes) directed staff to write a letter to the FDA advocating for standards that would allow traditional dairy names to continue being modified with words like “almond” or “vegan.” The Petaluma elected officials’ decisions have often been baffling (my goodness, bathtub art in downtown Petaluma, really?) but their strong stance against our dairy farmers leaves me speechless. To add insult to injury the restaurateur, Miyoko Schinner, that they supported in their action recently trespassed onto one of our local dairies under false-pretense. Posing as a farm-friendly visitor, she left the ranch and then posted on Instagram unsupported comments insinuating inhumane practice at this well-managed dairy.

If you explore the City of Petaluma’s website, there are many references to dairies in their history and culture section. In fact, they have a whole section, titled: “Industry Rooted in Agriculture” that touts “Much of Petaluma’s identity is tied to the dairy and poultry industries – a heritage that the community celebrates to this day.” The Council has a unique way of celebrating the dairy industry by showing total disregard for the local farmers and processing plants that are significant economic drivers and employers in their city.

This is just one more example of why agriculturalists and organizations like your Farm Bureau needs to be involved in city politics. Urbanites are losing sight of what farmers have done and will do for their community’s culture, sustainability and the quality of life that is enjoyed by all. We need to be more proactive in educating our consumers about our industry.

In case you missed it, here is the letter to the editor that appeared in the Press Democrat a few weeks ago:
In September, the FDA distributed a national request for comments about how consumers use plant-based alternatives and how well they understand terms like ‘milk’ and ‘cheese’ when used to label products. Shockingly, the Petaluma City Council—instead of supporting Petaluma dairy farmers, entered the discussion on behalf of a local plant-based producer, writing a letter to the FDA advocating for standards that would allow traditional dairy names to continue being modified with words like “almond” or “vegan.” The dairy industry is not only an economic driver but an integral piece of Petaluma’s history and culture. Especially considering the challenges local dairy farmers face with uncertain milk prices, it was disappointing for Petaluma City Councilmembers to turn their back on hardworking dairy producers. We support individuals who have vegan or vegetarian lifestyles, however calling non-mammal-based products milk or cheese can confuse consumers. Further, such labels do not convey the accurate nutritional value of the product. Sonoma County Farm Bureau is committed to supporting the best interest of our farmers, even when City officials who benefit from the economic benefit provided from agriculture do not. The Sonoma County Farm Bureau urges citizens to support dairy farmers and their business partners.

Related Articles

Premium Members

To represent, protect and advance the social, economic and educational interests of the farmers and ranchers of Sonoma County.