As more and more alternatives clutter the dairy aisle, reserving the term “milk” for products that come from mammals is even more vital.

In his presentation at the Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) annual meeting in Kansas City, Mo., National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) President and CEO Jim Mulhern gave a nod to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for allowing a period of open comment in regard to the use of milk on beverage labels. The docket, “Use of the names of dairy foods in the labeling of plant-based products,” was open from last fall until the end of January 2019.

“I know many of you filed individual comments in that docket, and I applaud you for doing that,” Mulhern said. “We are going to need more of that.”

Even though dairy enthusiasts spoke up in support of milk’s reputation, a majority of those 14,000 comments came from the other side of the matter. “While we have passion on this issue, know that the other side has passion as well,” he said. “And frankly, they engaged in that comment period more than our side did.”

When looking at the quality of comments, Mulhern said, “There was no comparison.” He explained that many comments from the opposing viewpoint were people saying that they were vegan and were not confused by such labeling, and that they know what they are eating does not have cow’s milk in it.

Scientific support on our side
On the other hand, cow’s milk got a glowing recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics. In their comments to the FDA, they confirmed dairy’s important role in the diets of children and recommended they consume two to three servings of milk and milk products each day. For adolescents, that recommendation rises to three or more.

Their letter also said pediatricians report that using the term milk to label dairy-free alternatives causes parental confusion, leading them to purchase products they assume contain the same nutrients as cow’s milk. They asked the FDA to reserve the label of milk for traditional dairy products only.

The bottom line is that the nutrition provided by dairy alternatives does not equal what people receive from milk and milk products.

“We have truth on our side. We have the facts,” Mulhern said. “This is our best chance to get the federal government to enforce existing regulations. Enforcement like Canada does, like the European Union does, and like most of the world does on labeling these products.”

While the official docket for comments is closed, Mulhern encouraged farmers to continue speaking up on this subject and asking for enforcement. “We (as NMPF) are going to keep pushing this matter,” he said. “With your support, I think we can get this done.”

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2019
April 1, 2019
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