“Words have meaning”: Labeling bills seek to distinguish meat and dairy from alternatives

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MADISON, Wis. —  Wisconsin is known as America’s Dairyland, but the rising popularity of plant and nut-based dairy alternatives is becoming a concern for many in the dairy industry.

Yesterday, three bills that would block dairy and meat alternatives from using the labels “meat” or “cheese” on their packaging were passed unanimously by the state assembly. Now the bills move to the senate.

Many in support of the bills are concerned that labeling alternative products as “meat” or “dairy” can be misleading to consumers. In a study done by the Wisconsin Cheesemakers Association, about one-fourth of consumers who picked up a plant-based cheese alternative believed that it contained dairy milk due to the cheese label.

“It’s really not a safe thing for customers to be mislead on what they’re purchasing,” said Rebekah Sweeney, policy director for the Association. “Dairy delivers protein, calcium, phosphorous that its imitation just can’t provide.”

Companies that produce the meat and dairy alternatives argue that they have a constitutional right to free speech. However, Wisconsin’s legislature might say otherwise, with the bills now headed for the senate.

Chad Zuleger, associate director of government affairs for the Dairy Business Association, says the senate vote can’t come soon enough.

“We feel that it is very important for the Wisconsin state legislature to move on these bills, to put Wisconsin on record and to protect dairy farmers in this state.”