United States Senator Tammy Baldwin made a visit to constituents at the Blue Spoon in Prairie du Sac July 5. Following her visit, Baldwin sat down with Eagle reporter Autumn Luedke to discuss the Dairy Pride Act, the Farm Bill, and the need to address food insecurity in the U.S.
Having dairy pride
The Dairy Pride Act, of which Baldwin is a sponsor, calls for stricter enforcement of labeling of non-dairy products with labels associated with real dairy products. The bill calls on the FDA to adhere to its own identity standards, where milk is identified as coming from a cow. Baldwin said the mislabeling of plant-based products such as soybeans, rice, coconut, almond and even hemp not only confuses the consumer, but also hurts farmers’ bottom line.
“Especially at this crisis point where we’re losing so many farms, every little bit that (mislabeled plant-based products) takes business away from our dairy farmers,” Baldwin said. “And anything we can do to help matters.”
From a nutritional perspective, Baldwin said the concern is whether people believe they are receiving the same nutritional quality or standards they would in a dairy product when a plant-based product is labeled as being milk.
“I think of someone like a new mom … are we saying those other products carry the same nutritional quality and content?” Baldwin said. “No. So I think the FDA has finally developed an interest in recognizing this misrepresentation in labeling is causing real issues with respect to nutritional content.”
Baldwin said she’s noticed an uptick in other manufacturers packaging their products to mimic that of milk cartons.
“What I started noticing when in the supermarket in the dairy case – now they aren’t just using the word ‘milk’ but also putting it in what people identify with as milk cartons,” Baldwin said. “Grocers are putting them side-by-side in the dairy case.”
Baldwin said while there is an appropriate interest for plant-based alternatives, it isn’t appropriate to call a product what it isn’t.
Farm Bill 18
A new farm bill is put before congress every five years, and it isn’t just for farmers. The farm bill contains a variety of legislation on agricultural research, food assistance programs, nutrition standards, crop subsidies and more. So why is this one different?
“Well, we may get it done on time,” Baldwin said, jokingly. More importantly, she said, this farm bill revisits programs initiated during the last one that never reached their promise.
“The margin of protection is a great example,” Baldwin said. “It is a tool intended to help dairy farmers manage their real risk, such as price fluctuations for feed or selling milk. It had a lot of promise but never fulfilled that promise.”
Baldwin supports making coverage more generous “so people don’t pay premiums and never see results,” Baldwin said. “I think that was an important step forward.”
Addressing food insecurity
“It’s a complicated question and still an ongoing debate,” Baldwin said on whether she preferred addressing food insecurity in the farm bill or by getting rid of tariffs. “We’ve had a lot of meetings in Congress to try to perfect the provisions; they often say we have had a strategy for having affordable food and certainly aspire to help feed the world. You can’t travel to many other countries and see prices like you see in the U.S. And at the same time, there are still too many people hungry and live in food deserts.”
The FDA defines a food desert as being parts of the country lacking the availability of fresh fruit, vegetables and other healthful whole foods, largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets and healthy food providers.
“It’s something ultimately that needs to be tackled,” Baldwin said. “But until we make sure with the agricultural blessings in this country that we can ensure people aren’t food insecure here, we still have a whole lot of work to do.”
Baldwin is running for reelection to the United States Senate. Wisconsin voters will choose between her and a Republican candidate Nov. 6.