EXETER — In the dairy industry, few things are predictable and certain, from the weather to the price we receive for our milk.

But at the end of the day, what leaves our farm remains tried, true and consistent: Real dairy milk is wholesome, safe and full of nutritional benefits.

That healthy halo is so distinct that some nondairy processors will go to great lengths in an attempt to copy our products.

Dairy farmers work extremely hard to follow our industry’s extensive regulations – including the Food and Drug Administration’s labeling laws specifying what milk is.

So it’s frustrating to see these copycats take a handful of seeds or nuts, grind them into a paste, add emulsifiers and whiteners, sprinkle in a few nutrients and then pour the resulting concoction into a carton and call it “milk.”

All the camouflage in the world won’t produce the natural goodness of real milk.

And government regulations say imitators shouldn’t be able to copy the names of cheese and yogurt, either.

But for more than a decade, we’ve seen an explosion of products that mimic certain attributes of milk, including co-opting that very name.

Unfortunately, the FDA has turned a blind eye to this growing practice.

That’s why I support the Dairy Pride Act, new legislation in the Senate and House that simply asks the FDA to do its job and police the long-standing food labeling standards that clearly spell out what milk is.

Given the importance of the dairy industry here in Maine, we need support from our congressional delegation to get this bill passed.

The bill would ensure that anything labeled “milk” has to have come from an animal source.

It actually doesn’t create a new law, it merely tells the FDA to be accountable for enforcing existing food standards.

This fight is not new.

Federal law dictating what should be labeled milk – and dairy’s call on the FDA to enforce it – has been around for decades.

What the dairy farmers and lawmakers are doing in endorsing the Dairy Pride Act is simply asking the companies that make imitation dairy products to respect this definition.

A key reason food standards exist is to prevent creative marketers from misleading consumers with inferior impersonations, and that’s exactly what’s at stake here.

None of these fake milks match the natural, consistent and high levels of nutrients contained in real milk.

Without the FDA’s role in defending food standards, people can be misled into thinking plant-based drinks have the same nutritional makeup as milk, when most just don’t.

Milk is naturally packed with nine essential nutrients, including protein, calcium, potassium and vitamin A.

Imitators cannot guarantee the same nutrient package across the many types and brands in the grocery store.

It’s unlikely that consumers know if they’re getting the right package of nutrients in every glass. Where imitators vary greatly, milk remains steadfastly the same. Every glass, every day.

Interestingly, other English-speaking countries do not face this confusion, because they are much more diligent in enforcing the use of dairy-specific terms.

The same popular brand of almond beverage is sold in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom. But only in the U.S. is the term “almondmilk” displayed on the packaging.

Canada and Britain have regulations similar to the U.S. that don’t allow use of the term “milk” on products that don’t contain milk, but the difference is, their governments enforce that standard.

Here in the U.S., our Food and Drug Administration is asleep at the switch.

I strongly encourage my fellow farmers and dairy industry stakeholders – as well as Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, and Reps. Bruce Poliquin and Chellie Pingree – to get behind this bipartisan and bicameral effort.

They’re urging a federal agency to do its job, and they’re doing it to reduce confusion in this already muddled consumer marketplace.