The dairy industry just won a big battle. Scott Gottlieb, FDA Commissioner, indicated at a recent POLITICO Pro Summit that the agency might soon be restricting plant-based beverages from using the term ‘milk.’ The agency has yet to issue a guidance document that outlines the identity policies for marketing milk products.
This is a huge win for the dairy industry because they have been facing a lot of competition from plant-based products. With more people leaning towards plant-based products, original dairy products are suffering. For non-dairy milk, sales have increased 61 percent in the US in the past five years. Meanwhile, dairy milk sales fell 15 percent since 2012. In addition to the plant-based trend, the recent tariffs implemented by the Trump Administration have added insult to injury for the dairy industry. In fact, dairy farmers have seen prices go below their cost of production.
“You see the proliferation of products like soy milk and almond milk calling themselves milk, but if you look at our standard of identity, there is a reference somewhere in the standard of identity to a lactating animal, and you know an almond doesn’t lactate,” Gottlieb said at the summit. “And so, the question becomes, have we been enforcing our own standard of identity? The answer is, probably not.”
The dairy industry recently went to court and pushed the federal legislation to call on the FDA to enforce the legal definition of ‘milk.’ The FDA has until around Sept. 23 to prepare the new industry guidance and how they plan to enforce it. It is currently unclear how the FDA will enforce this. Products such as almond milk, soy milk and other plant-based beverages might have to change their names to ‘plant-based beverage’ or ‘fortified beverage’ to fit into a new category.
This change could take up to a year, Gottlieb noted. He also added that the agency is willing to take comments on any changes they propose; some of those comments might be in favor of this change while others might be against. The question that remains is whether or not a name change will affect the sales of these beverages. Currently, plant-based beverages are popular, especially amongst millennials who are conscious of animal rights.
In addition to the ethical choice consumers are making, health also factors in. Soy milk, for example, has half the calories, half the total fat and one third of the carbs found in whole cow’s milk. Almond milk also has less calories and can be seen by consumers as the healthier option. Since the products have obvious benefits to consumers, a new name shouldn’t affect sales and consumers might even continue to use the term ‘milk’ regardless of the labeling change.