Good Food Institute urges FDA to recognize the term ‘soymilk’ as dairy industry fights against the use of ‘milk’ for non-dairy products |

Good Food Institute urges FDA to recognize the term ‘soymilk’ as dairy industry fights against the use of ‘milk’ for non-dairy products

Jessica Almy, policy director for Good Food Institute
The Hagstrom Report |

The Soyfoods Association of North America on July 31 praised a letter the Good Food Institute sent to the Food and Drug Administration urging the agency to act on the Soy Foods Association’s petition to recognize the term “soymilk.”

Meanwhile, the National Milk Producers Federation urged the FDA to continue to ignore the 20-year old petition.

The reaction is important because the Good Food Institute is a young organization that promotes plant-based foods which mostly replace animal-based foods. The Soyfoods Association and the National Milk Producers Federation are much bigger, established organizations.

The FDA’s standard of identity for milk is the lacteal secretions of a mammal, but in 1997 the Soyfoods Association asked for recognition of “soymilk.” The FDA has not acted on that petition, but it also has not prosecuted companies for using the term.

The dairy industry has asked the FDA to enforce the standard, and members of Congress have introduced bills requiring that.

Noting the Administrative Procedures Act requires agencies to respond to petitions in a timely manner and tension between the plant-based and dairy industries have heated up, the Good Food Institute said, “More than 20 years later, we think the FDA has had enough time to respond to SFA’s request, and it should put an end to the dairy industry’s bullying of plant-based competition by clarifying its position.”

The institute also requested for milk to be used to other non-dairy products that aren’t soy.

“GFI is not only asking FDA to allow the term “soymilk” to stand,” the group said in a letter. “We’re asking that the FDA codify its existing practice of allowing food producers to use common names that consumers recognize to describe plant-based milk, cheese and yogurt — names like almond milk, cashew cheese and coconut yogurt.

“If FDA acts in violation of the First Amendment by restricting use of the term ‘soy milk,’ or related terms, we will sue,” the group added.

GFI policy director Jessica Almy said, “FDA should make clear that companies can label plant-based foods using terms that consumers know and understand. The dairy industry has been bullying its plant-based competition for too long. FDA should send a strong signal that it’s putting the interests of consumers first in its response to this petition.”

“The Soyfoods Association of North America appreciates the support expressed today by the Good Food Institute for ‘soymilk,’” said John Cox, the executive director of the association, in an email to The Hagstrom Report.

“We are in agreement that the FDA has an opportunity to amend federal regulations to allow using the common and usual term of ‘soymilk,’ particularly since this term is what has been used by consumers for many years now,” Cox said. “The FDA would serve consumers well by moving to formalize the use of the term ‘soymilk’ in its regulations, and we hope to see action on this front shortly.”

But Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation said, “The Soy Foods Association’s 20-year-old petition to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is as inappropriate today as it was when it was filed in 1997, and the Good Foods Institute is mistaken for trying to revive those old arguments today.

“Nothing has happened in the intervening time period to allow the combination of soy powder, water, emulsifiers, stabilizers, sugar, sodium and added vitamins to magically become milk,” Mulhern added. “Regardless of what food technologists might try, milk still only comes from mammals.

“The efforts of GFI and other groups to alter food standards that have been in place for decades — allowing manufacturers of imitation dairy foods to append a plant name like almond, soy, hemp or quinoa in front of legally defined dairy terms such as milk, cheese, yogurt and ice cream — falsely suggests that the products are nutritionally equivalent. They are not. This is a transparent attempt to profit from milk’s good name by emulating the wording, but not the superior nutrition, of our products. It is misleading and deceptive to allow these nutritionally inferior imitators to use our hard-won reputation to their advantage.

“What’s more, this request is not only inconsistent with U.S. food standards, it’s also inconsistent with regulations used by most other nations, which don’t allow plant-based imitators to co-op dairy-specific terms,” Mulhern said.

“Ironically, in GFI’s first request to FDA in March, the organization admitted that in China — supposedly the original source of ‘soy milk’ — the more common term used in Mandarin for soy beverages is ‘dòu jiāng,’ which translates to ‘bean slurry.’ At least that is a more accurate and legally compliant product description.” ❖