Wisconsin is America’s Dairyland, one of the largest dairy producers in the USA producing around one-third of the country’s butter. The local dairy lobby has been relatively quiet about the use of words such as “milk” or “cheese” as the competing plant-based alternatives have been proliferating. But the word “butter” tipped the balance according to a report in Bloomberg.
Miyoko’s Kitchen, founded by Miyoko Schinner is an extraordinarily successful vegan cheesemaker. The company was established off the back of her very successful vegan cheese cookbook. In many ways, she is to vegan cheese, what Beyond Meat is to non-meat meat. The company’s products are sold in 12,000 stores throughout the USA and experienced an extraordinary 168% growth in sales last year.
Wisconsin dairy farms closing at a dramatic rate
The contrast with Wisconsin’s dairy industry could not be greater. But the industry there is suffering. Dairy farmers are leaving the industry at the rate of three a day. The state lost 638 dairy farms in 2018, according to the latest data from the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. This represents a 7.25 per cent drop in the number of registered dairy herds.
The National Milk Producers Federation has been lobbying against alternative dairy products. It does not like their use of dairy terms such as “butter” on labels as it believes that they mislead consumers to take away market share unfairly.
In September 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration decided to “modernise” the situation having regard to the new plant-based industry, and began a public consultation regarding names and labels. The Plant-Based Foods Association (PBFA) believes that 76% of the public comments were fine with the status quo.
Butter must mean Butter
On 15th April, Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) told retail food establishments to remove products that are not technically real butter, meaning that it is made from milk or cream. This meant that vegan butter could not be sold as butter. Such products would need to be labelled to show that they were an imitation.
During this time Miyoko’s Kitchen saw its products being withdrawn from retail outlets.
Miyoko Schinner offered to put labels saying “vegetable spread” on her vegan butter. After a month this was finally agreed by the state, but not after significant lost sales.
Most vegans simply do not care what their non-butter butter is called. But it is the traditional butter consumers that the dairy lobby is worried about losing.
What names should plant-based products use?
Elsewhere in the world, different countries are wrestling with the same problems.
A vegan cheese producer in Vancouver was ordered to stop using the word cheese.
In February 2019 Dairy UK did not think that vegan cheese could be called cheese. It wrote to Charlotte and Rachel Stevens, the proprietors of Britain’s first plant-based cheesemonger in Brixton, South London, that calling non-dairy products “cheese” contravenes EU Rules. The unintended consequence of this was to give La Fauxmagerie a phenomenal level of publicity
The European Parliaments Agriculture Committee voted on 1st April that names currently used for meat products and meat preparations shall be reserved exclusively for products containing meat. These words would include Steak, Sausage, Escalope, Burger, Hamburger. The common view now is that a vegan burger may need to be rebranded as a vegan “disc”.