Throughout the first quarter of 2021, the Plant-Based Foods Association has reaffirmed its commitment to support and promote policies that impact the plant-based foods industry. PBFA has established new partnerships with aligned organizations, reaffirmed existing professional and industry collaborations, and has retained a new federal lobbyist to support our federal level policy and advocacy work. We have also begun the search for a full-time Director/Senior Director of Policy.
We have worked, in conjunction with the PBFA Policy Committee to develop short and long-term policy and advocacy goals, based on current state and federal-level legislation in anticipation of a busy year and the new federal landscape emerging now that the Biden Administration leads the executive branch and its numerous regulatory agencies, and Congress is led in both chambers by the Democratic Party. A March Member Solutions call served as an opportunity to provide important policy and advocacy context and insights to PBFA members.
Additionally, PBFA has welcomed a new CEO, Rachel Dreskin. We are excited to continue shaping our long-term policy and advocacy agenda under her leadership.
PBFA has made important advancements connecting the plant-based food economy to its agricultural roots with help from Carl Jorgensen, PBFA’s agriculture consultant. Previously Carl was a Director at Daymon Worldwide, providing global support for major retailers’ free-from, organic and natural private brands. Carl was President of a USDA-accredited organic certification agency, CEO of an organic specialty food importer and distributor, and a co-founder of a food testing company that offered the world’s first commercial test to detect GMOs in crops and food products, and is frequently quoted in trade and national publications. Carl has a BA from Penn State and an MS from Drexel University, and graduated from the UCLA Anderson Graduate School of Management’s Advanced Retail Strategy certificate program.
Notably, Jorgensen has helped to maintain recruitment of farmers and plant-based brands for PBFA’s Domestic sourcing initiative. This initiative aims to connect the fast-growing plant-based foods industry to American farmers. Currently, the majority of plant-based food products’ ingredients, such as dried peas, chickpeas, wheat gluten, and oats, are grown or processed outside the United States. However, PBFA believes that market and policy initiatives can establish a competitive domestic market and reduce reliance on imports.
Additionally, PBFA has made agriculture policy advancements in the following ways:
- Joined the Farmer to Market Rancher Advocacy Program (RAP). Potential benefits to PBFA include identifying ranchers who want to transition from animal agriculture to growing crops for plant-based food companies.
- Aligned with Judie Mancuso of Social Compassion. Judie has been very successful in getting animal-rights-related bills through the California Legislature.
- Connected with Dr. John Fagan of Health Research Institute in Iowa to understand the process around meat and dairy proteins produced from cell culture technology and vat fermentation.
- Prepared a final draft of the farm-level demand calculation methodology created in collaboration with the University of Illinois, using final 2020 plant-based retail sales data from SPINS and coded by PBFA and GFI. This methodology takes retail sales data and estimates how many acres of crops are required to meet the demand for specific plant-based ingredients. The final report is to be released on April 6, 2021.
- Hosted a March 26th webinar for Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI) with Julie Emmett. Presented an overview of the plant-based foods industry and its rapid growth, PBFA’s Domestic Sourcing Initiative, and a preview of PBFA’s farm-level demand estimator created in collaboration with U of IL.
Federal Policy Efforts
Efforts to influence federal plant-based food policy have begun to realize more success thanks to the involvement of Beverly Paul, our new federal lobbyist, who comes to PBFA with vast experience in the agriculture and food industries. Bev started with PBFA in November but has represented clients on a wide array of agriculture and nutrition issues at Gordley Associates since 2002. Her practice areas include agricultural conservation and sustainability, nutrition, research, and agriculture data issues. Bev served as Legislative Assistant for agriculture and trade for Senators Bob Kerrey and Ben Nelson of Nebraska and was detailed to the staff of then-Majority Leader Tom Daschle for the 2002 farm bill. She holds degrees from the University of Nebraska and the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas.
With Bev’s guidance and a motivated team at PBFA, important headway has been made to incorporate plant-based food further into federal policy. Actions taken on the federal level include:
- Held a federal policy webinar for members with Michael Robbins, where members were introduced to top policy priority issues for 2021, discussed key policymakers in Congress and the Biden Administration and asked for member input and engagement on political advocacy
- Drafted a letter to Congressional leaders supporting the American Rescue Plan bill, and specifically provisions to provide debt relief and other assistance to minority farmers.
- Joined the Good Food Institute and other stakeholders in a letter to Congressional Appropriations Committee leaders requesting $50 million in USDA funding for research that advances the development of alternative proteins for human consumption.
- Continued outreach to both House and Senate Congressional offices to discuss PBFA legislative priorities, including labeling, domestic sourcing, and support for climate legislation.
- Promoted PBFA’s interest in domestic sourcing with two key trade associations: The USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council and the American Seed Trade Association. Both groups have invited PBFA to speak to their members about opportunities for increasing the production of key ingredients by US farmers.
The beginning of 2021 state legislative cycles brought forth examples of support and threats in dealing with the plant-based foods industry. PBFA has continued to be active in supporting legislation that improves the accessibility of choice to plant-based foods and opposes legislation that limits the availability of plant-based options. Currently, two bills in Texas and Kansas, and three in Wisconsin, seek to drastically limit how plant-based products are labeled, claiming consumers are confused. PBFA recognizes that many consumers are not confused about plant-based products and actively exercise their freedom to choose from a wide range of appropriately labeled products. Additionally, a labeling bill challenging what plant-based milks can call themselves has been put forth in New York, to which PBFA submitted a letter of opposition.
Not all new state legislation has attempted to limit the public-driven growth of plant-based products, and PBFA actively supports bills brought forth in the following states:
- AB 558 is a bill aiming to ensure plant-based foods are made available to schools in California, along with staff training on how to incorporate plant-based food options into school menus.
- HB 2348 is a bill brought forth to ensure plant-based foods are made available to patients, families, and employees in Oregon hospitals and for people incarcerated in Oregon prisons.
- PBFA submitted a memo of support for SB 322, which would allow for a demonstration project in state prisons to add plant-based foods to the options available to prisoners and develop new wellness standards. The regulation could ultimately expand to other state institutions, including hospitals.
- PBFA also supports HB 317which seeks to have the state reduce its greenhouse gas emissions tied to food purchases by 25% by 2030.
Looking Ahead to Q2
After an eventful quarter one which gained serious momentum for the plant-based food industry, the second quarter of 2021 holds many more opportunities for PBFA and the plant-based community. Under the leadership of new CEO Rachel Dreskin, PBFA will continue to improve upon PBFA advocacy and policy development. Additionally, interactions between the USDA and FDA and PBFA are on the horizon. PBFA will submit comments to the USDA in regard to a request for information about how to best use USDA programs, funding and financing capabilities, authorities, and encouragement of voluntary conservation adoption. PBFA also expects to meet with FDA officials to brief them on the growing plant-based foods industry, and to share industry priorities.
As the Biden administration and Congress seek to draft new climate legislation, PBFA will continue to advocate for the plant-based industry and its potential to support crop diversity, mitigate agricultural effects on climate change, and the need to prioritize industry research.