GREEN BAY, Wis. — Dairy foods and drinks should be an integral part of a new federal effort to promote public health through improved nutrition, a group representing dairy farmers across the Midwest told the U.S. Food and Drug Administration this week.
The Nutrition Innovation Strategy should address the mislabeling of nondairy products, allow product innovation in dairy foods and include dairy if the agency pursues a new designation for “healthy” foods, said Aaron Stauffacher, associate director of government affairs for Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative. Stauffacher spoke at a public meeting of the FDA in Maryland on Thursday.
“We recognize that a major focus of this effort is providing customers with the information they need to make decisions in the grocery store that meet their individual needs,” said Stauffacher, whose group has about 800 member farms. “Our farmers, who proudly produce the milk that is a key ingredient for a variety of nutritious and wholesome foods, have strong feelings and progressive ideas to help you accomplish just that.”
The FDA’s goal in launching the strategy is to find new ways to reduce chronic disease through improved nutrition. The public meeting was the first step in collecting input to help the agency determine future actions.
“We look forward to using our tools and authorities to both empower consumers with information and facilitate industry innovation toward healthier foods that consumers want,” an agency outline of the program said.
Stauffacher said giving customers the best information starts by accurately labeling food products. The first step begins with enforcing FDA’s existing standards of identity. Whether it’s milk, cheese or yogurt, dairy foods have a high nutritional value and taste that customers easily recognize and have come to expect, he said.
“Products that do not fit the standards of identity for dairy products should not be allowed to be labeled as such,” he said. “Inaccurate labeling is simply not fair to farmers who have invested in those standards or to customers who may be misled into purchasing nutritionally inferior alternative products.”
Edge also recognizes there is an important opportunity to encourage innovation within the dairy case, Stauffacher said. “We need room from FDA to label innovative foods made with milk as the nutritious dairy products they are.”
Stauffacher also said that as the FDA considers a new label for “healthy” products, the agency must remember that dairy foods are well-known as an important part of a healthy diet, with milk, cheese and yogurt providing nine key nutrients.
“We want to continue to provide a wide range of options for customers to help them fit their individual tastes and needs,” he said.