Noting that the Butter Act of 1923 gives the Food and Drug Administration no leeway in enforcing a congressional statute that defines the food as a dairy product, the American Butter Institute sent letters to the chairmen and ranking members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, urging them to compel FDA to enforce federal law against plant-based imposters that illegally misuse the term “butter” as a marketing trick.
“When it comes to violations of the Butter Act specifically, Congress did not give the Food and Drug Administration any enforcement discretion on the matter,” Tom Balmer, executive director of the American Butter Institute, said in the Oct. 4 letter. “Congress stated very precisely the ingredients from which butter is to be made and its final composition. FDA’s non-action in enforcing what Congress has mandated represents, in essence, a federal agency’s rewriting of a Congressional act and usurping Congressional authority.”
Butter’s definition has been settled law for more than a century, covered by legislation dating to 1886. Imitators made from vegetable oils have been able to use terms such as “margarine” and “spread,” ensuring a transparent marketplace. However, as butter’s popularity has grown in recent years – per-capita U.S. consumption last year reached its highest since 1968 – marketing departments at brands such as Country Crock® have been breaking the law by calling their margarines and spreads “plant-based butter” – an attempt to cash in on butter’s popularity that tarnishes a product that has had a consistent identity for generations.
“Words have meaning, power, and consequences,” Balmer writes. “We know this. You know this. ‘Misregulation,’ ‘confusion,’ ‘misinformation,’ and ‘obfuscate’ are not terms that should be used to describe the marketing of our nation’s food supply. Accordingly, we urge you to continue efforts to compel the Food and Drug Administration to enforce the statutory definition of the term ‘butter.’
The letter was released in conjunction with the organization’s annual conference, held this year in Tucson, Arizona. One year ago, ABI filed a lengthy complaint to the FDA in September calling out imitators. The organization also supports the National Milk Producers Federation’s citizen petition with the agency filed in February, outlining a roadmap toward a constructive resolution of the problem of mislabeled, fake dairy products. That petition may be accessed here.
The American Butter Institute (ABI) is an Arlington, VA-based trade association for manufacturers, processors, marketers and distributors of butter and butter products. ABI was established as the National Association of Creamery Manufacturers in 1908. Its mission is to promote and protect the interests and welfare of the industry. The association’s member companies market approximately 90 percent of the butter manufactured in the United States.