• As previously reported on this blog, opposing sides have urged the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to weigh in on the use of the term “milk” in labeling plant-based products, such as “soy milk” and “almond milk.”
  • The dairy industry asserts that plant-based products labeled using milk or other dairy-related terms violate FDA’s standard of identity regulations, and has urged FDA to take action. In January 2017, Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) introduced a bill, the Dairy Pride Act, which would have amended the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to prohibit the sale of any food that uses the market name of a dairy product, and is not the milk (i.e., lacteal secretion) of a hooved animal, is not derived from such milk, or does not contain such milk as a primary ingredient.
  • On the other side of the debate, the Good Food Institute (GFI) petitioned FDA in March 2017 for a regulation to clarify that “new foods may be named by reference to other ‘traditional’ foods in a manner that makes clear to consumers their distinct origins or properties.” GFI’s request states that a significant and growing group of consumers has sought to reduce or eliminate dairy products from their diet and that plant-based alternatives to traditional dairy products are becoming more common. FDA responded within the 180-day timeframe (required by law), but only to indicate no action was being taken at the time and suggesting the issue was not a high priority for future activity.
  • Last week, however, there was some indication that FDA may finally prioritize the issue. Addressing questions from Senator Baldwin at an April 25, 2018 Senate Appropriations Committee Hearing, FDA Commissioner Gottlieb promised forthcoming FDA activity, but not imminent enforcement against “almond milk” or other such products. Specifically, Dr. Gottlieb indicated that with industries’ reliance on FDA’s “regulatory discretion” on use of the term “milk” on plant-based products, data on consumer understanding are necessary before FDA could act. In this regard, the commissioner indicated that FDA will issue a request for information on consumer understanding of the terms at issue and any potential confusion over nutritional equivalency. While this process is not likely to be completed quickly, it may eventually bring some greater certainty to the labeling of these types of products.