OPINION Wis. Rep. Travis Tranel, R-49-Cuba City, Wis. Rep. Clint Moses, R-29-Menomonie, and I recently re-introduced our Truth In Food Labeling legislation to protect and promote real dairy and meat products to consumers.
The legislation is extremely important to the farmers and food processors in the 17th Senate District. They feel very strongly about the integrity of food labeling and are frustrated by the misleading labeling that has invaded dairy and meat cases throughout our grocery stores. It’s disappointing when you open a carton of “ice cream” and discover that you mistakenly bought a flavor-less dairy-free alternative, rather than the creamy and delicious treat expected.
Senate Bill (SB) 83 is related to milk labeling, SB 82 is related to meat labeling and SB 81 is related to dairy-product labeling. All the bills state the only products that can be labeled as commonly used terms for milk, meat and dairy products must actually be made from real milk, meat and dairy products. That means one cannot use common terms such as “milk,” “burger,” “chicken wing,” “cheese,” “yogurt,” “provolone” and other terminology for products that are not made from actual milk, meat from a mammal or cheese made from milk.
We know the bills aren’t a silver bullet that will solve the problems for our ag economy, but they’re something we can do to protect and promote real, healthy, excellent-quality agricultural products to consumers. Those bills will also put pressure on the federal government to take action on existing food-labeling regulations that aren’t currently being enforced.
I sincerely appreciate the support of statewide ag groups and several local leaders for the bills. Dave Buholzer, one of the owners of Klondike Cheese in Monroe, Wisconsin, attended the recent Senate hearing to support the legislation. His leadership on the issue has been an important part of the conversation. In addition to the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, the bills are also vocally supported by the Dairy Business Association, the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation and the Wisconsin Cattlemen’s Association.
“Milk is from a cow,” Tranel said. “Meat is from an animal. Cheese is made from milk. Consumers, farmers and producers deserve clear labeling. Buyers should be able to easily purchase the real food products they intend to purchase. When I select a package of Provolone cheese, I shouldn’t have to figure out if it’s made from real milk, or coconut oil and modified starches. I want the real thing.”
All three bills have been approved by the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Tourism. I will be working with my colleagues to continue moving the bills through the legislative process.
I have also re-introduced two other bills to support our ag-industry. SB 79 promotes ag education by allowing our instructors from the University of Wisconsin-System to count on-the-farm time toward the calculation of their total teaching hours. Our state specialists are a very important part of our farm economy; they provide invaluable expertise and knowledge to improve farming aspects. The time they spend teaching farmers should be counted toward their overall teaching directive. Otherwise we are disincentivizing our instructors from spending time in the field where we need them the most.
In addition I have re-introduced SB 80, which will provide increased support for State Integrated Specialists who conduct applied agricultural research. One way to keep Wisconsin’s $104.8 billion agricultural industry strong is to support the work of state integrated specialists at the UW-Division of Extension. Those state specialists conduct applied agricultural research as well as provide practical and tangible expertise to directly assist farmers and producers by conducting research regarding important topics such as water quality, pest management and farm economics. They then share their knowledge and answer difficult questions. They also spend time traveling to farms and disseminating valuable information directly to farmers.
I’m working on additional ways to support agriculture in Wisconsin and welcome your ideas. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have a recommendation or an obstacle that you are working to overcome. The best legislation always comes directly from you, the people who are living and working in our communities.