DALLAS — Dean Foods is exiting the International Dairy Foods Association (I.D.F.A.) over the trade group’s unwillingness to oppose labeling plant-based products with dairy terms.
“We believe it is wrong that many plant-based products are currently marketed using milk’s good name yet are lacking several of the inherent nutrients of their dairy counterparts,” Dean Foods said. “Unfortunately, I.D.F.A. has been unable to reach consensus and take a stance on this important issue.”
Dean Food will instead divert its advocacy resources to “pursuing accurate product labeling for the benefit of the dairy industry.”
The use of dairy terms on dairy-free products is a contentious issue. Many dairy processors claim using words like “milk” or “yogurt” to describe plant-based alternatives is misleading and potentially confusing to consumers. Others, such as the Good Food Institute, have defended the practice on free-speech grounds.
“The dairy industry believes that soy and almond milk makers should be censored from calling their products what they are, soy milk and almond milk,” said Matt Ball, a media representative at The Good Food Institute, in response to a court decision blocking attempts to stop the practice last year.
While the Food and Drug Administration said it would release a guidance document describing potential changes to the standards of identity for dairy products last year, the agency has yet to make a final call on the labeling issue. In September 2018, the F.D.A. asked for public comment. Three-quarters of the responses were in favor of using dairy terms on plant-based products.
Meat producers have been waging a similar battle against makers of plant-based meat alternatives. Several states, including Arkansas, Missouri and Mississippi have introduced legislation to ban plant-based companies from using meat-derived terms like bacon, burger or hot dog.
Dean Foods said fighting for stricter identity standards is one of its core priorities, though it is worth noting the company holds a majority stake in non-dairy brand Good Karma Foods, which uses phrases like “plant-based sour cream,” “dairy-free yogurt” and “plant-based milk alternative” on its packaging.