Oat, soy and almond drinks can keep milk in their names, the Food and Drug Administration proposed this week in an effort to end a long-running battle between the powerful dairy industry and plant-based upstarts. The way Americans consume grains and taste their coffee.
Most consumers, the agency noted in its draft proposal, know that liquid extracts from plants have no relation to cow’s udder.
But in a relief to the nation’s traditional milk producers, the FDA also recommended that packaging for plant-based drinks clarify key nutritional differences between their products and cow’s milk. The agency said that if a can of rice milk contains less vitamin D or calcium than dairy milk, for example, the label must provide that information to consumers.
Although the new labeling recommendations are said to be voluntary, industry experts expect most companies to follow them. The agency plans to issue a final decision after another period of public comment.
“Today’s draft guidance was developed to help address the significant increase in plant-based milk alternative products that we have seen available on the market over the past decade,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert M. Califf said in a statement. have seen.” “The draft recommendations released today should provide consumers with clear labeling to give them the information they need to make informed nutrition and purchasing decisions on the products they buy for themselves and their families.”
The FDA’s guidance was eagerly anticipated by dairy producers and the vast plant-based food sector, which are at odds over whether the word “milk” on products derived from nuts and grains confuses consumers. The debate, which began with the introduction of soy-based beverages four decades ago, has gained more urgency amid drastic changes in dietary habits. Products like oat milk continue to see strong growth, while milk consumption has been on a downward trend for decades. According to the US Department of Agriculture, Americans drink almost half as much milk on average as they did in 1970.
The growing embrace of beverages made from cashews, quinoa or flaxseed has been fueled partly by health concerns; Some people buy them because they are lactose intolerant. And a growing number of Americans cite either a desire for a vegan diet or the contribution of dairy production to climate change through the manure and methane produced by cows. Animal rights activists have sought to portray dairy farming as inherently cruel, a claim that has been rejected by the industry. For some consumers, turning to plant-based products is simply a matter of taste.
Given the skepticism expressed by one of Dr. Calif’s recent predecessors, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, executives in the plant-based food sector were expecting a less favorable decision. In 2018, he famously declared that “an almond does not lactate”—comments that suggested the agency might ban the word “milk” for non-dairy beverages.
Madeline Cohen, a regulatory advocate with the Good Food Institute, which promotes plant-derived food products, said the FDA’s guidance was a welcome acknowledgment that consumers were smart enough to know that coconuts were produced by lactating animals. Milk was not produced. “We know that consumers are going out and intentionally buying these products,” she said. “No one is buying them by accident.”
But she expressed dismay at the new labeling recommendations, saying they were unnecessary and potentially confusing, especially given that some nutrients in milk, such as protein and magnesium, are lacking in the typical adult’s diet. are not. “If anything, some groups of Americans are consuming too much protein,” she said, adding that those who care about the nutritional content of plant-based drinks should read the product’s existing back-of-carton label. Can
Dairy producers had a similarly mixed reaction to the FDA’s proposals. Alan Bajraga, a spokesman for the National Milk Producers Federation, expressed disappointment that the word “milk” could remain on the cans of plant-based beverages. However, he said he thought the new nutritional labeling recommendations might persuade some companies to switch to words such as “beverage” or “beverage” rather than admit that their products contained plain, old-fashioned milk. Has less protein and calcium than
“The fact that the FDA is finally doing something after 40 years is a positive for us,” he said.