Dairy industry says milk alternatives spoil truth

glass of milk_blogIf it doesn’t come from a cow, can it truly be called milk? That’s the question on the top of some minds this week as 25 members of Congress recently wrote a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration asking them to investigate and take action against manufacturers of “milk” that doesn’t come from cows. This includes plant-based alternatives including those made from soybeans, almond, rice and many others.

“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,” the letter states.

In addition, the members of Congress involved with the letter explained that dairy farmers are struggling with “deep cuts in income” following a 40% drop in milk prices since 2014. The current forecast is for prices to remain low, while the sale of plant-based products,  labeled as milk, are expected to grow.  In fact, they generated $1.4 billion this year and grew 54% over the last five years in the U.S alone.

And it doesn’t stop at just soybeans, almond or rice milk, the article explains. There is now also hemp, pistachio, macadamia nut, sunflower, and a variety of others, that are now in the marketplace.

According to Beth Briczinski, the vice president for dairy foods and nutrition at the National Milk Producers Federation, which represents dairy farmers, when these plant-based products are labeled as “milk,” they become confusing to consumers who may think they have the same nutrients as traditional milk from cows.

Briczinski goes on to explain that for some of these products, the nutritional content is not the same at all. In fact, some milk-like drinks actually contain very little protein or calcium — two of the major nutritional components found in traditional milk.

Democratic Vermont Rep. Peter Welch, a co-author of the letter, points out that the FDA already has a legal definition of milk, and “the FDA regulation defines milk as something that comes from a mammary gland.” So, he said, “we’re asking the FDA to basically enforce its own regulation.”

This week’s letter is only the latest round in a long-running battle over the milk label. In 2000, the National Milk Producers Federation filed a formal complaint with the FDA, asking the agency to crack down on the labeling of plant-based drinks as “milk.” Three years earlier, in 1997, the Soyfoods Association of America had asked the FDA to recognize that “soymilk” is the common and accepted name for a product derived from soybeans and water.

So far, the FDA has declined to take a stand, and there’s little sign that this letter from Capitol Hill will change things, the article states. An FDA spokesperson, however, is reported as saying the agency does have “plans to respond directly to the lawmakers on their letter.”

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