US FDA must protect plant-based milk from discriminatory labeling
December 5, 2022
Consumers are not misled by the use of the term “milk” for plant-based milk
The US FDA is today being urged to refrain from issuing any guidance that would discriminate against America’s booming plant-based milk sector.
Food awareness organization ProVeg US said the FDA’s unpublished guidance document, called “Labeling of Plant-based Milk Alternatives and Voluntary Nutrient Statements”, should encourage the market for plant-based milk rather than seek to restrict it.
The FDA document, which has already been sent to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), is understood to potentially include a ban on the use of the term “milk” on plant-based products out of fear that it misleads consumers.
However, a California court has already dismissed as “highly improbable” the idea that consumers could be confused.Ang v. WHITEWAVE FOODS COMPANY, Dist. Court, ND California 2013 – Google Scholar In the Californian case, the plaintiffs alleged that a reasonable consumer would see the terms “soymilk” and “almond milk” and disregard the first words in the names, and assume that the beverages came from cows. Judge Conti said: “The claim stretches the bounds of credulity. Under Plaintiffs’ logic, a reasonable consumer might also believe that veggie bacon contains pork, that flourless chocolate cake contains flour, or that e-books are made out of paper.”
Lana Weidgenant, policy and campaigns manager at ProVeg, said: “If the FDA guidance restricts plant-based companies from using the term “milk”, it will serve to perpetuate the myth that consumers are being misled, and sabotage innovation across the US, negatively affecting growers and manufacturers alike at a time when the market is rapidly growing.”
The North American market for plant-based milks is expected to grow at a rate of 11% annually up to 2026, when its worth is expected to surpass $6 billion.Plant Milk Market Growth Analysis 2020-2026 | Share Report (gminsights.com)
Four US Senators have already written a letter to the OMB this year expressing their concern about the FDA guidance.
“FDA should not be using its labeling authority to harm a growing industry and the millions of American consumers for whom plant-based foods are an important part of their diet,” the Senators state.
Plant-based milks should also be encouraged rather than restricted because they have less of an impact on the environment.
“Plant-based milks are an important contribution in the fight against climate change – a challenge that we need to urgently respond to,” Weidgenant said.
Some plant-based milks typically have a much smaller carbon footprint, between 63% and 78% smaller than animal-based milk.Poore, J. & T. Nemecek (2018): Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science. 360 PV_Plant_Milk_Report_281019-1.pdf (proveg.com) In addition, global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from animal based foods are twice those from plant-based foods, so policies need to be pushed that encourage plant-based nutrition.
As well as being climate-friendly, enriched plant milks also offer nutritious alternatives for people who do not drink dairy milk. Globally, about 68% of people are lactose intolerant, so plant milks provide a greater choice on the market.
Guidance from the FDA on plant-based labeling is expected to be published in the next few weeks, before year end.
|↑1||Ang v. WHITEWAVE FOODS COMPANY, Dist. Court, ND California 2013 – Google Scholar|
|↑2||Plant Milk Market Growth Analysis 2020-2026 | Share Report (gminsights.com)|
|↑3||Poore, J. & T. Nemecek (2018): Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science. 360|