Draft federal rules released on Wednesday state that soy, oat, almond, and other plant-based drinks can continue to use the term “milk.” The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued guidelines stating that such drinks “do not pretend to be from dairy animals – and that US consumers aren’t confused by the difference.” Dairy producers have called for the FDA to crack down on plant-based drinks and other products, which they argue masquerade as animal-based foods and cloud the real meaning of the term “milk.”
The FDA’s Recommendation:
- These new rules recommend that beverage makers label their products clearly by the plant source of the food, such as soy milk or cashew milk.
- They also call for voluntary extra nutrition labels that note if the drinks have lower levels of nutrients, such as calcium, magnesium, or vitamin D, than dairy milk.
The guidelines aim to provide consumers with clear nutrition information. The draft rules do not apply to nondairy products other than beverages, such as yogurt.
While the National Milk Producers Federation applauded the call for extra nutrition information on drink labels, the industry trade group rejected the FDA’s conclusion that plant-based drinks can be called milk because it’s a “common and usual name.” The Good Food Institute, which advocates for plant-based products, objected to the extra labeling. The number of plant-based drinks has exploded in recent years, including dozens of varieties such as cashew, coconut, hemp, and quinoa-based liquid extracts of plant materials labeled as milk. Almond milk is the most popular variety in the US, but oat milk has seen the fastest growth.
Implications of these new rules for Dairy Farmers:
The sales of refrigerated cow’s milk grew to $12.3bn in the year ending 28 January, compared with $2.5bn for nondairy milk, according to consumer information company NielsenIQ. Lawmakers in dairy states have previously tried to pass legislation requiring the FDA to enforce a federal standard defining milk as a product from cows.
The farm bill, a comprehensive piece of legislation that outlines US agricultural policy and funding for the sector, has long been a contentious issue for farmers and policymakers alike. Some dairy industry advocates argue that the use of the term “milk” to describe these plant-based alternatives is misleading and confusing for consumers, and have lobbied for stricter regulations around labeling. Meanwhile, proponents of non-dairy milks argue that they offer a more sustainable and ethical alternative to traditional dairy farming, which is harmful for our country and our farmers.