Dairy alternatives
Is it milk?

WASHINGTON — A letter written by members of the House of Representatives to Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert Califf calling for the enforcement of the agency’s standard of identity for milk drew support from such groups as the International Dairy Foods Association and the National Milk Producers Federation.

The letter, authored by Representatives Mike Simpson of Idaho and Peter Welch of Vermont, and co-signed by 30 other members of the House, states, “We strongly believe that the use of the term “milk” by manufacturers of plant-based products is misleading to consumers, harmful to the dairy industry and a violation of milk’s standard of identity. We request that the Food and Drug Administration exercise its legal authority to investigate and take appropriate actions against the manufacturers of these misbranded products.”

The fact dairy alternative manufacturers may label products as soy milk, cashew milk, etc., has long been a thorn in the side of milk processors and marketers. Dairy manufacturers long have argued that the standard of identity for milk, of which the first sentence reads “Milk is the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows,” should be enforced and dairy alternative manufacturers prevented from marketing their products as milk.

Jim Mulhern, National Milk Producers Federation
Jim Mulhern, president and c.e.o. of the National Milk Producers Federation

“You haven’t ‘got milk’ if it comes from a seed, nut or bean,” said Jim Mulhern, president and chief executive officer of the National Milk Producers Federation. “In the many years since we first raised concerns about the misbranding of these products, we’ve seen an explosion of imitators attaching the word ‘milk’ to everything from hemp to peas to algae. We don’t need new regulations on this issue; we just need F.D.A. to enforce those that have been on the books for years.”

The House letter noted that during the past five years sales of plant-based products grew 250% to more than $894.6 million. By contrast, sales of milk fell 7% in 2015. The data included in the letter is from the market research firm Nielsen.

“While consumers are entitled to choose imitation products, it is misleading and illegal for manufacturers of these items to profit from the ‘milk’ name,” the letter said. “These products should be allowed on the market only when accurately labeled. We urge F.D.A. to enforce this matter by requiring plant-based products to adopt a more appropriate name that does not include the word ‘milk.’”

As an example of a potential resolution, in the European Union regulators do not allow the term milk to be used in regards to plant-based beverages. Instead, such beverages are labeled “soy drink,” etc.