The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
The FDA Should Protect Consumers, Not a Dying Dairy Industry
By Cheryl Leahy
Do you think almond milk comes from a cow named Almond? Or that almonds lactate? The dairy industry thinks you do, and that's what it's telling the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
For years, the dairy industry has been flexing its lobbying muscle, pressuring states and the federal government to restrict plant-based companies from using terms like "milk" on their labels, citing consumer confusion.
The National Milk Producers Federation even helped get the "Dairy Pride Act" introduced, as part of its war on plant-based products. My organization, Compassion Over Killing (COK) and more than 10,000 petition signers suggest a better option: If the dairy industry has "pride" in its own product, why not clearly label it "cow's milk"?
Last fall, COK, Animal Legal Defense Fund and the University of California Los Angeles's Resnick Center for Food Law and Policy submitted joint comments urging the FDA not to back the dairy industry's anti-competitive efforts by restricting plant-based dairy products from being labeled with terms like "milk," along with thousands of public comments submitted.
Now, the agency has received thousands of responses to its call for public comments on other terms, such as "yogurt" and "cheese." Though it's doubtful that consumers who are not confused by almond milk would suddenly become confused by almond cheese.
While the FDA buckles under industry pressure, the courts (and the court of public opinion) seem to see this issue very differently. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has ruled to uphold a lower court's dismissal of a class-action suit against almond milk maker Blue Diamond. The court's stance? No "reasonable consumer" is misled or deceived by the label.
Empirical research shows that consumers are more than capable of telling the difference between animal- and plant-sourced milk products. A notable study found that 78 percent of cow's milk drinkers agree that the most appropriate term for products like soy milk and almond milk is "milk."
Even Danone, the world's largest yogurt producer, has opposed changes to labeling on plant milk products. Michael Neuwirth, senior director of external communications at Danone North America, said, "Dairy and plant-based products are clearly labeled with nutrition facts so people know what's in the products."
Vegan products are a multibillion-dollar industry, and consumers are purposefully forgoing traditional dairy products in search of more ethical and healthier alternatives. Sales of dairy milk have been steadily falling, and in 2016, major dairy industry players paid $52 million to settle a class-action lawsuit over illegally fixing prices by killing more than 500,000 young dairy cows to lower milk supply.
If the FDA wants to get strict about the definition of "milk," as the dairy industry is desperately demanding, then half of the cow's milk sold in this country couldn't even be labeled using that term. Under FDA's Standard of Identity, "milk" must come from "healthy cows." But investigations like those by COK and the government's own records show that the majority of U.S. dairy cows cannot be characterized as "healthy."
Crowded by the thousands inside factory farms, dairy cows spend their days standing and lying in their own waste. Treated as mere milk-producing machines, they regularly suffer from a number of health problems, such as painful mastitis, skin and hoof infections, diarrhea, digestive diseases and lameness.
Many dairy cows become unable to stand or walk during their short life span. By the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) count, nearly one-quarter of U.S. dairy cows suffered from clinical mastitis. Even more cows suffered from subclinical mastitis that can be detected by the presence of pus. Half of the milk sampled in 2017 by USDA contained pus.
If the FDA were to adhere to the strict "milk" definition, it would be hitting the proverbial nail into the dairy industry's coffin.
Then there's day-to-day cruelty and standard industry practices like separating mother cows from their calves, cutting off tails and burning young calves' horns with hot irons, and invasive artificial insemination. Then when dairy cows are not producing enough milk to be profitable, they're sent to slaughter at a mere fraction of their normal lifespan, often prodded and roughly handled because their bodies are so damaged from years of use by the industry. It's not hard to see why dairy is turning consumers' stomachs.
Current labeling terms are clear. The public is not confused. They're increasingly making healthier and kinder choices. It's time for the FDA, tasked with protecting public health, to choose to do just that: protect consumer choice, not industry profits.
Cheryl Leahy is general counsel at Compassion Over Killing, a nonprofit animal protection organization based in Washington, DC. She is responsible for development and oversight of investigations, litigation and policy concerning farmed animals.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
hadynyah / E+ / Getty Images
By Johnny Wood
The Ganges is a lifeline for the people of India, spiritually and economically. On its journey from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal, it supports fishermen, farmers and an abundance of wildlife.
The river and its tributaries touch the lives of roughly 500 million people. But having flowed for millennia, today it is reaching its capacity for human and industrial waste, while simultaneously being drained for agriculture and municipal use.
Here are some of the challenges the river faces.
By Jake Johnson
As a growing number of states move to pass laws that would criminalize pipeline protests and hit demonstrators with years in prison, an audio recording obtained by The Intercept showed a representative of a powerful oil and gas lobbying group bragging about the industry's success in crafting anti-protest legislation behind closed doors.
Speaking during a conference in Washington, DC in June, Derrick Morgan, senior vice president for federal and regulatory affairs at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), touted "model legislation" that states across the nation have passed in recent months.
AFPM represents a number of major fossil fuel giants, including Chevron, Koch Industries and ExxonMobil.
"We've seen a lot of success at the state level, particularly starting with Oklahoma in 2017," said Morgan, citing Dakota Access Pipeline protests as the motivation behind the aggressive lobbying effort. "We're up to nine states that have passed laws that are substantially close to the model policy that you have in your packet."
Big Oil is now using its political power to try and criminalize protests of oil & gas infrastructure.— Friends of the Earth (@foe_us) August 19, 2019
"This legislation has potential to punish public participation and mischaracterize advocacy protected by the First Amendment."https://t.co/bmiHjONEhy
The audio recording comes just months after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law legislation that would punish anti-pipeline demonstrators with up to 10 years in prison, a move environmentalists condemned as a flagrant attack on free expression.
"Big Oil is hijacking our legislative system," Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said after the Texas Senate passed the bill in May.
As The Intercept's Lee Fang reported Monday, the model legislation Morgan cited in his remarks "has been introduced in various forms in 22 states and passed in ... Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota."
"The AFPM lobbyist also boasted that the template legislation has enjoyed bipartisan support," according to Fang. "In Louisiana, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the version of the bill there, which is being challenged by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Even in Illinois, Morgan noted, 'We almost got that across the finish line in a very Democratic-dominated legislature.' The bill did not pass as it got pushed aside over time constraints at the end of the legislative session."
Many of the state bills restricting the right to protest have been "drafted by companies and passed through groups like ALEC, the secretive group of corporate lobbyists trying to rewrite state laws to benefit corporations over people." @greenpeaceusa https://t.co/ZxpTjWdrwT— Stand Up To ALEC (@StandUpToALEC) May 6, 2019
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
Hawaii's Kilauea volcano could be gearing up for an eruption after a pond of water was discovered inside its summit crater for the first time in recorded history, according to the AP.
The last four members of an embattled wolf pack were killed in Washington State Friday, hours before the court order that could have saved them.
By Randi Spivak
Slashing two national monuments in Utah may have received the most attention, but Trump's Interior Department and U.S. Forest Service have been quietly, systematically ceding control of America's public lands to fossil fuel, mining, timber and livestock interests since the day he took office.
A new report by Greenpeace International pinpointed the world's worst sources of sulfur dioxide pollution, an irritant gas that harms human health. India has seized the top spot from Russia and China, contributing nearly 15 percent of global sulfur dioxide emissions.
By Sue Branford and Thais Borges
Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated: