OPINION  FarmFirst Dairy Cooperative applauds the U.S. House and Senate for approving a final fiscal-year 2020 appropriation-bill package that shows support for dairy farmers entering the new year.

FarmFirst is first and foremost greatly encouraged by the language Congress included urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to enforce its standards of identity for dairy. Both the House and Senate versions of the agriculture-FDA bill included report language reaffirming bipartisan congressional concern with mislabeled imitation dairy products – and directing the FDA to enforce its own rules regarding labeling. The House and Senate approved the final compromise funding bill in December.

Plant-based products using dairy terms on their labels are simply misguiding consumers to believe those products are nutritionally equivalent, and that’s simply not the case. The House and Senate have shown strong bipartisan support for the FDA to address the mislabeling issue that has gone on for far too long. In addition the recent confirmation of Stephen Hahn as the FDA commissioner gives us optimism that the FDA will finally address the problem. The message couldn’t be any clearer to the FDA. Now is the time to enforce its standards of identity for dairy.

FarmFirst is pleased to see funding for the Dairy Business Innovation program, assisting in the dairy industry exploring opportunities for innovation and modernization. As an industry U.S. dairy has always been innovating and developing new ideas. The funding helps spur further innovation and product diversification, bringing to life some of those ideas and initiatives years ahead of when they otherwise would have become available. Ultimately those initiatives will provide greater value for the all-so-important product that dairy farmers produce – milk.

We would be remiss to not thank our congressional leaders for their work on garnering support for the additional funding for those Dairy Business Innovation initiatives, representing more than $20 million in grant money. We are excited to see where researchers, businesses, processing plants and cheesemakers – the industry as a whole – will lead the industry with the opportunity for development and innovation.

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Jeff Lyon is the general manager for FarmFirst Dairy Cooperative, which represents farmers by providing legislative and regulatory advocacy, dairy-marketing services, disaster protection, laboratory-testing opportunities and industry promotion. Visit www.FarmFirstDairyCooperative.com for more information.