US to look at ‘misleading’ non-dairy product labels

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DEFENCE: American dairy producers defend the name milk. (Photo: Midwest Dairy)

ALMOND milk, soy milk and vegan cheese have one thing in common – despite their names they are not dairy products.

Now the US Food and Drug Administration is to look at whether this mislabeling is confusing health-conscious consumers looking for more options.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb says information provided through food labeling must be truthful and not misleading.

“One area that needs greater clarity is the wide variety of plant-based foods that are being positioned as substitutes for standardised dairy products,” Gottlieb says. “We’ve seen a proliferation of products made from soy, almond or rice calling themselves milk.”

The American Dairy Products Institute says beverages derived from plant-based materials shouldn’t be allowed to be called milk. It wants the FDA to enforce existing regulations that define milk as coming from the mammary glands of animals such as cows, sheep and goats.

Gottlieb agrees the alternative products are not the food that has been standardised under the name milk and which was known to the American public as milk long before the 1938 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act was established.

“In addition, some of these products can vary widely in their nutritional content – for instance in relation to inherent protein or in added vitamin content – when compared to traditional milk,” he says.

“Case reports show feeding rice-based beverages to young children resulted in a disease called kwashiorkor, a form of severe protein malnutrition. There has also been a case report of a toddler being diagnosed with rickets, a disease caused by vitamin D deficiency, after parents used a soy-based alternative to cow’s milk.”

The FDA intends to look at whether parents may erroneously assume plant-based beverages’ nutritional contents are similar to those of cow’s milk.

Plant-based producers insist they be able to use the term milk when selling their product and argue it’s a freedom of speech issue, protected by the outdated U.S. constitution.

Gottlieb admits the long-time lack of FDA enforcement is a problem.

“We recognise that, as a regulatory agency, it’s not appropriate to unilaterally change our regulatory approach if we have a history of non-enforcement,” he says. “

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