The dairy industry has been trying for years to block makers of oat, soy and almond milk from marketing their products as “milk.”
That’s a word, they say, that applies only to what comes out of cows.
Yeah, no, the Food and Drug Administration has finally concluded.
The agency has released draft guidelines saying makers of plant-based milk products can continue calling them milk.
“Today’s draft guidance was developed to help address the significant increase in plant-based milk alternative products that we have seen become available in the marketplace over the past decade,” FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf said in a statement.
“The draft recommendations issued today should lead to providing consumers with clear labeling to give them the information they need to make informed nutrition and purchasing decisions on the products they buy for themselves and their families.”
The draft puts things even more succinctly. It says that consumers “understand that plant-based milk alternatives do not contain milk,” but that using the word “milk” for such products has become “strongly rooted in consumers’ vocabulary.”
That’s undoubtedly true, but the draft ruling isn’t sitting well with the dairy industry, which says that “dairy terms are for true dairy products, not plant-based impostors.”
Today’s ruling is also a reversal from the FDA’s stance during the Trump administration. The agency’s previous position was that “an almond doesn’t lactate.”
No, it doesn’t. But the FDA under President Biden has determined that, a lack of lactation notwithstanding, the market understands full well that cow’s milk is different from soy milk.
Even so, the agency is recommending that makers of plant-based milk products spell out on labeling how the nutritional value of their beverages differs from that of dairy.
More than 13,000 comments were submitted to the FDA ahead of the new ruling, illustrating that this is an important issue to many.
Me, I’m with the agency’s latest thinking.
Plant-based milks are obviously different from dairy products. And, indeed, almonds don’t lactate.
That said, the FDA is correct in saying that consumers can figure things out for themselves, and that calling plant-based beverages “milk” is just part of the lexicon.
I do draw the line, however, at any marketing campaign that asks “Got soy?” or any variation thereof.
The dairy industry hit home run with “Got milk?” No one can take that away from them.