In the absence of action by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), consumer-advocacy and dairy trade groups are disputing whether plant-based beverages, such as those made from soy or almonds, can be called “milk.” The Good Food Institute (GFI) sent a July 31, 2017, letter to FDA requesting action on a 1997 citizen petition filed by the Soyfoods Association of America seeking recognition of the term “soy milk.” The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) answered with a statement the same day, saying the effort to alter food-labeling standards “falsely suggests that the products are nutritionally equivalent.”

Although FDA has previously issued letters to producers of plant-based beverages warning that their use of the term “milk” is improper because such products do not contain dairy, the agency has never responded to the 1997 petition.

NMPF argued that GFI “is mistaken” for trying to revive the 1997 petition and that “[n]othing 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.” 

In the meantime, the European Court of Justice ruled in June that the term “milk” could only be used for animal-derived products rather than plant-based beverages and foods.