CEDAR GROVE, Wis. – About three dozen farmers, cheese processors and others recently discussed with U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue challenges farmers currently face. They gathered for a meeting hosted by the Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative at Double Dutch Dairy near Cedar Grove.

Among the concerns voiced was the mislabeling of non-dairy foods. Amy Penterman of Dutch Dairy near Thorp, Wisconsin, and a member of Edge Cooperative, said farmers have invested heavily in promoting dairy foods as safe and nutritious. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has failed to enforce labeling standards that identify milk, cheese and other dairy products as originating from cows, she said.

“It’s extremely frustrating to see our investments in our own dairy terms be taken advantage of by imitation plant-based product manufacturers,” she said. “This is also unfair to customers who are misled.”

Edge Cooperative co-commissioned a national survey in 2018 to measure customers’ views on plant-based foods that mimic dairy. The results, released in 2019, showed that customers are confused about whether those products are indeed dairy foods and whether they carry the same nutritional value.

“Words do matter when it comes to customers’ buying decisions,” said Brody Stapel, co-owner of Double Dutch Dairy, and president of Edge Cooperative. “People should be protected from deceptive names and packaging when they’re looking for real dairy products. We’re not against customers having options at the grocery store, but they shouldn’t be lied to.”

Perdue fielded questions about other topics.

  • The second round of the federal Coronavirus Food Assistance Program that provides direct financial assistance to farmers struggling with low prices, lost markets and other supply-chain disruptions tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. Signup for the program runs through Dec. 11.
  • The importance of free-trade agreements to U.S. farmers who are looking for new markets for their products. Perdue pointed to efforts to capture dairy-market share in China and capitalize on emerging opportunities in Africa.
  • The challenges dairy farmers face in finding employees, given the lack of a year-round visa option for immigrant workers.

Stapel said it was a privilege to have Perdue visit his farm.

“I think it’s crucial as president of Edge and also as a local dairyman that we bring our farmer-members' voices right to the people who need to hear it,” he said.

Perdue said, “Today, I got to visit with the great dairy men and women of Wisconsin and hear their concerns and bring them back to Washington to ensure their government is working for them, not against them.”

Visit voiceofmilk.com for more information. 

Jamie Mara is director of communications for Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative.