In comments to the FDA – which asked for input on standards of identity as part of its nutrition innovation strategy – Danone NA said the notion that terms such as ‘almondmilk’ may “prevent people from making healthier choices is troubling and not based on facts” and noted that many plant-based brands are fortified with vitamin and minerals, offer low-sugar options, and provide new sources of plant protein.
[The FDA is still accepting comments in response to its recent request for information on the use of dairy-derived terms in plant-based products up until Nov 27 - click HERE.]
Banning terms with which shoppers are familiar “could make it more challenging for consumers to find the products they want on shelf and to understand what they are buying,” added Danone NA, which says it is simply using “the language they [consumers] have come to know over decades of use on products and in popular culture.
“Saddling plant-based products with a new, foreign name risks injecting confusion and distrust into the market… Further, it could discourage consumption of a variety of plant-based foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. This would be directly contrary to the Dietary Guidelines, which encourages the consumption of plant-based foods and certain plant-based products, including soymilk in the dairy category.”
GFI: Some voices in industry want FDA to ‘weaponize identity standards against innovative products’
On a more practical level, if an almond- or soy-based liquid simply presented itself in a white carton as ‘milk’ with no modifiers or disclaimers, that would be misleading, but this is not what is happening, added the Good Food Institute, which says brands typically use a modifier (eg. almond-milk) and additional qualifiers (eg. dairy-free, plant-based, non-dairy) on pack.
The standard of identity for milk (limiting it to the lacteal secretions of cows) was designed to address fraud and economic adulteration, not to prevent plant-based alternatives from referring to standardized terms (eg. milk) in their marketing altogether, it argued.
“Yet some voices in industry have advocated for FDA to weaponize identity standards against innovative products, contrary to this historical understanding.”
CSPI: FDA should consider standards for key nutrients in non-dairy milks
While most consumers know almondmilk is not from cows, however, they “may not know that some milk substitutes lack the key nutrients found in milk, or that milk substitutes may vary widely in nutrient content,” claimed health advocacy group the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).
“We are particularly concerned with unfortified products that fall well short of milk in key nutrients, such as calcium and vitamin D.”
Rather than banning terms such as almondmilk, however, the CSPI encouraged the FDA to “instead consider standards for key nutrients in non-dairy milks.”
NMPF: Plant-based dairy alternatives are 'nearly always less nutritious'
The National Milk Producers Federation, meanwhile, argued that plant-based dairy alternatives are “nearly always less nutritious” than their dairy-derived counterparts.
“Imposters like ‘almond milk,’ ‘soy cheese’ and ‘rice yogurt’ bask in dairy’s halo by using familiar terms to invoke positive traits ‐ including the significant levels of various nutrients typically associated with real dairy foods,” claimed EVP Tom Balmer.
“We should stop confusing deceitful marketing practices with technological innovation.”
His comments were echoed by the American Butter Institute, which said plant-based products including Faba Butter, Miyoko’s Kitchen cultured vegan butter, and Pure Blends’ plant-based butter violated the federal standard of identity for butter (ie. made from dairy milk, cream, or both and containing a minimum of 80% milk fat by weight).
FDA is working on a new compliance policy
While the FDA has largely ignored dairy producers’ calls for a crackdown on the use of dairy-derived terms such as milk, butter and cheese on plant-based products in recent years, FDA commissioner Dr Scott Gottlieb recently indicated that a “a new compliance policy” may be on the cards.
But he also acknowledged that there could be legal challenges were the agency to suddenly ban terms such as ‘almondmilk’ having tacitly endorsed such terms on food labels for a decade, and recently issued a public request for information to help inform the development of draft guidance to “provide greater clarity on appropriate labeling of plant-based alternatives.”
- Read a selection of stakeholder comments submitted thus far HERE.