Plant-Based Options Disrupt Dairy Category

What’s in a name? Plenty, when it comes to the labeling of products sold in traditional dairy categories.

In April, a bipartisan bill called the Dairy Pride Act was introduced in Congress to prevent the labeling of products derived from plants, nuts and seeds as milk. The proposed legislation calls for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to follow through on its regulations defining milk and cream, and halting the labeling of plant-bed items as “milk,” “yogurt” or “cheese.”

“Only milk comes from a cow – not an almond or coconut or any other fruit or vegetable,” noted Rep, Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, in a statement.

A similar sentiment was expressed Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, who said, “Dairy farmers, already struggling to survive, are facing a growing threat due to the misleading practice of marketing plant-based products as milk and dairy products.”

Dairy organizations have also sounded the alarm about labeling. In a statement supporting the introduction of the Dairy Pride Act, the Arlington, Va.-based National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) thanked the bill sponsors for putting forth the legislation. “FDA is responsible for the integrity and safety of our nation’s food, medicine and medical devices, and it’s crucial that it enforce its own standards and requirements,” said Jim Mulhern, NMPF president and CEO. “Without enforcement, we are left open to the potential for questionable products, deceptive practices and, in cases such as mislabeled plant-based products that masquerade as having nutritional benefits similar to dairy’s, negative effects to our health.”

While recognizing the FDA’s efforts to support consumer choice and market innovations, the Washington, D.C.-based International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) has also asked the agency to ensure truthful labeling of plant-based products that doesn’t confuse or mislead consumers.

Meanwhile, consumers have their own opinions on the subject of terms and names. According to the New York-based Plant Based Foods Association, 78% of those who drink only cow’s milk use “milk” to describe plant-based alternatives, and more than half of consumers prefer the terms “dairy-free or “nondairy” versus descriptions such as “milk alternative” or “milk substitute.”