FDA asks for comments on plant-based dairy labeling
September 28, 2018
The Food and Drug Administration on Sept. 27 asked for comments on how it should label plant-based alternatives to dairy products and the dairy and plant-based food industries have already said they will send in opposing views.
In a statement, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said, "We're working on modernizing our standards of identity, which define through regulation certain characteristics, ingredients and quality of specific foods."
"These standards of identity help to ensure that consumers know 'vanilla extract,' for example, will always be made from vanilla beans and not artificial flavorings," Gottleib said.
"We're on a fast track to take a fresh look at the labeling of products that are being positioned in the marketplace as substitutes for dairy products," he said.
"And, today, we've taken the first step in this process by issuing a request for information in the Federal Register to solicit comments and feedback from the public to gain more insight into how consumers use plant-based alternatives and how they understand terms like 'milk' or 'cheese' when used to label products made, for example, from soy, peas or nuts.
"We're interested to know if consumers are aware of, and understand, the nutritional characteristics and differences among these products — and between these products and dairy — when they make dietary choices for themselves and their families."
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The notice was scheduled for publication in the Federal Register, and comments will be due in 60 days after Sept. 27 when it was posted.
The National Milk Producers Federation said its comments "will provide additional perspective explaining why the agency must enforce its own labeling regulations and limit the use of standardized dairy terms to products that come from an animal."
National Milk said the docket recognizes that "plant-based products are packaged, merchandized and sold in the same way as real dairy foods, yet provide fewer nutrients and therefore cannot be considered suitable substitutes."
"However, our comments will further emphasize that at its heart, our concern over accurate labeling is a concern not just about nutritional equivalence and the implications for public health," NMPF said.
"A food identified by a standard of identity is so much more than just a collection of nutrients. A standardized dairy food, like milk, yogurt or butter, is defined by its inherent characteristics including how and where it is sourced, and its sensory attributes and performance properties.
"Quite simply, just adding plant protein, calcium and a few other ingredients to water does not make it milk."
The Plant Based Foods Association said it will tell the FDA, "American consumers are sophisticated and well informed about plant-based foods. Consumers who purchase plant-based foods are keenly aware of why they are making these choices and do so for many reasons: sustainability, health, allergies, ethics, variety and taste."
"Plant-based dairy alternatives are growing at a rapid pace, far more than grocery overall, thanks to an innovative industry and shifting consumer tastes," the association said.
"We urge the FDA to adopt policies that encourage this innovation, not stifle it, and that will allow consumers to make informed choices. Plant-based food producers offer options that consumers want and recognize. If those foods are forced to be identified by obscure, contrived names that consumers are unfamiliar with, innovation will be stifled, and consumers will be deprived of the choices they deserve.
"We are confident that once the FDA has the opportunity to learn more about consumer preferences and understanding of plant-based foods, the FDA's work to modernize standards of identity will produce standards that will support this growing and innovative industry and the millions of American consumers who are voting with their dollars for plant-based foods.
"Our research shows that 78 percent of cow's-milk drinkers agree that the word 'milk' is the most appropriate term for products such as soy milk and almond milk.
"For our members, and as the data shows, for many consumers, the word describes the functionality of the product. Consumers know the difference between a cashew and a cow. The dairy lobby has not offered up any credible evidence of consumer confusion.
"In fact, our data shows that four in 10 households contain both plant-based and cow's milk in their refrigerator. There's clearly room for everyone in the marketplace." ❖