Washington Insider-- Monday

Food labeling and Non-Dairy Products

Here's a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN's well-placed observer.

USDA Requiring Farmers To Resubmit CRP Offers

USDA earlier this year announced it had reviewed the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and put in place higher rental payments, new incentives and more focus on climate change. Given those changes, USDA has now deleted all offers submitted under the continuous CRP signup (Signup 55) and the general CRP signup (Signup 56).

USDA said there will be a one-time 10% “inflationary” adjustment for the life of the CRP contract which will be factored into Soil Rental Rates (SRRs).

As for the Climate-Smart Practice Incentive effort, USDA said the incentives will be 10% for woody biomass, 5% for grass and legumes and 3% for grass cover types. USDA also said that State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) practices are being moved from the general CRP signup to the continuous signup.

CRP offers can be resubmitted starting June 14 with a deadline of July 23 for offers under the general signup and August 6 for the continuous signup. Contracts are to start October 1 for the general signup and for continuous signup offers for re-enrolled or a combination of re-enrolled and new acres.

For offers on new acres only under the continuous signup, contracts start the first of the month after the month that the offer has been approved. Those submitting offers under CRP previously will be getting letters advising them of the new signup.

NCBA Petition USDA To Eliminate 'Product of The USA' Labels

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) has filed a petition with USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to eliminate the use of “Product of the USA” and other broad U.S. origin labeling claims for beef products that are potentially misleading to consumers. The group said they view the current “Product of the USA” as not providing a service to consumers as it is not based on any verification program, food safety standard and it does not deliver value back to the cattle producer. NCBA believes that current “Product of the USA” labels are “a disservice to American consumers and cattle producers alike,” the group said. The group pointed out that imported products can be labeled as a “Product of the USA” if they have been minimally processed or repackaged in a USDA-inspected facility.

“The Product of the USA label does not meet the expectations of today's consumers and disincentivizes the use of voluntary, source-verified claims that allow cattle and beef producers to more effectively distinguish their product in the marketplace,” said NCBA President Jerry Bohn. “There is a growing desire among consumers to know more about the origin of the food they purchase, and it is critical that producers are empowered with opportunities to market their high-quality beef in a way that allows them to differentiate the source of their product from competitors and potentially increase profitability.”

NCBA said they support voluntary efforts that allow cattlemen to get more value of their product via origin labels, marketing initiatives that are voluntary and source-verified.

NCBA is advocating for a more appropriate generic label, such as “Processed in the USA." The group said they want to work with USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) to educate stakeholders in the industry to develop voluntary, verifiable origin marketing claims that deliver benefits to producers but do not violate U.S. trade commitments.

Washington Insider: Food labeling and Non-Dairy Products

The issue of food labeling is one of those potential hot-button items when it comes to U.S. lawmakers. And that has not changed as was evidenced in a recent hearing on the Food and Drug Administration's Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 budget.

And it is one that farm-state lawmakers, especially those from dairy states, have continued to focus on in the wake of the rise of plant-based food products that use terms like “milk” on the labels of the products.

Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock was confronted by those issues during the hearing, with Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., zeroing in on the topic as she questioned Woodcock.

Baldwin has introduced a bill that would seek to require FDA to issue guidance for nationwide enforcement of mislabeled imitation dairy products within 90 days. “I'm sometimes dismayed that I even have to offer a measure like this,” she told Woodcock. “FDA does not enforce the regulations it has on the books. So, dairy farmers follow these rules, day in and day out in order to be able to honestly label their product as milk, or cheese, or yogurt. Yet a range of imitation dairy products have gotten away with using these dairy terms, even though they don't follow the agency's rules.”

So her question to Woodcock focused on what the agency is doing to address what she says is a violation of FDA labeling requirements. “We are working on updated guidance that would make sure consumers understood,” Woodcock said. “We're particularly concerned about nutritional value. For example, calcium, vitamin D, protein. Some of these other products are not comparable and safe. They were fed to a young child or infant, they wouldn't be getting what the consumer, the mother or parent thought the child was getting.”

But Woodcock was able to offering little other assurance to Baldwin except to say FDA “will try to get that as soon as possible.”

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., delved into the issue of plant-based proteins and labeling on those products. Hoeven put his attention on the fact that USDA is in charge of labeling on animal products. “If there's animal terminology or imagery used, and of course, and on the animal side, we want USDA doing -- driving labeling,” he commented. “We understand you to have it in the Food and Drug side, from the plant and drug side. But, you know, how do you prevent misleading labeling for these products?”

“We have to establish clear standards, and we work very closely with USDA on these issues to make sure they have labeling principles and so forth to make sure that that those are out there and people understand them,” Woodcock replied. “So some is education, some is enforcement to make sure that if things are mislabeled that, that we provide feedback to companies.”

Noting the confusion that unfolds with a beef product and a similarly named plant-based product, Hoeven noted, including for both the consumer but also livestock producer.

“I would say on the plant side, there are many people who want to make sure they're eating a plant product, too,” Woodcock observed. “So these need to be very labeled very clearly which one they are so that people are not misled.”

So we will see. The issue of things like common food names being applied to similar plant-based products has long been a focal point for the U.S. dairy and other sectors. And as these alternatives continue to grow, it is an issue that needs to be monitored closely, Washington Insider believes.

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