Update (September 28, 2018): FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has released an updated statement on the agency’s plan to define the term “milk” as it’s used on beverage packaging. On Wednesday, the FDA issued a request for information (RFI) in the Federal Register so that consumers can submit their opinions on this issue. The RFI was issued so that the FDA could gain more insight on how consumers use dairy alternatives and how they understand terms such as “milk” or “cheese.” This will allow the agency to find out if consumers are aware of the nutritional differences between plant-based alternatives and dairy products when making dietary choices for themselves and their families.
Originally published on July 31, 2018:
The FDA is currently reviewing the definition of “milk,” which is important to the organization because they believe that labeling affects the health of consumers. Plant-based beverages (such as soy, almond, coconut and cashew) are often referred to as “milk,” however, the FDA and the dairy industry both agree that these products should be relabeled. After being pushed to do something about this, the FDA explained how they will go about assessing the labeling issue in a recent press release.
“Food labels – including the name of food – inform consumers about what they’re buying, and standards of identity are used to ensure that foods have the characteristics expected by consumers. The information provided through food labeling must be truthful and not misleading. The consumer choices made based on this information can have important impacts on health,” FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in the release.
This isn’t a new issue. The FDA was pushed to take action by the dairy industry, whose sales have been suffering due to the competition from plant-based products. US non-dairy milk sales have increased 61 percent in the past five years. This might be the reason why original dairy milk sales fell 15 percent. However, the FDA seems to have more than just falling sales on their mind. The organization stresses the impacts mislabeling these dairy alternative beverages could have on consumer health.
“We intend to look at these differences in relation to potential public health consequences… case reports show that feeding rice-based beverages to children resulted in a disease called kwashiorkor, a form of severe protein malnutrition,” Gottlieb stated.
With concern for public health, the FDA plans to involve consumers in their assessment. As explained in the release, they plan to review how consumers understand and define milk when it comes to both animal and plant-based products. This will allow the FDA to recognize whether or not consumers have an accurate understanding of the differences between these products and are capable of making good dietary choices for themselves and their families.
Comments from consumers can possibly help the FDA’s push to relabel plant-based products. Still, the battle seems tough. According to Food Dive previous efforts to restrict the use of the word “milk” to only traditional dairy beverages have been denied in court. In California, there was a class action lawsuit against WhiteWave Foods Co., Dean Foods Co., ad Horizon Organic Dairy because they had labeled their plant-based products as “milk” and “yogurt” when they contained no dairy.
The argument presented in court stated that products like Silk Coconut Milk, Silk Almond Milk, Horizon Organic Yogurt did not fall under the definition of “milk” according to the FDA as the products were not from animals. However, this was dismissed when the court ruled that the FDA did not mention plant-based products in their definition.
Regardless of what label is put on these products, the dairy industry does, in fact, face tough competition from plant-based products.
“Consumers are more interested than ever before to learn about the food they eat and to use this information to make healthful choices. At the same time, we see a market that’s rapidly responding to new consumer expectations and trends,” Gottlieb sated.