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FDA proposed in February to allow companies to use the term ‘milk’ on the labels of plant-based fake alternatives. The opportunity to comment on the FDA’s Draft Guidance on Labeling of Plant-Based Milk Alternatives ends July 31, 2023. American Dairy Coalition (ADC) urges action now.
The FDA Guidance document recommends milk imposters to “voluntarily” provide a nutrition statement on their product labels, explaining the differences between real Milk and their phony alternatives.
“The voluntary statement is totally inadequate. The FDA Draft Guidance is business-as-usual for the companies making imposter products that have enjoyed two decades of non-enforcement and billions of dollars in annual profit at the expense of dairy farmers and consumers while the FDA has looked the other way, ignoring its own Standards of Identity for Milk,” says ADC CEO Laurie Fischer.
“FDA says these nutritional statements are a voluntary recommendation, but many in the dairy industry adamantly disagree with FDA’s position. Plant-based companies and trade associations, including the American Beverage Association, are supporting and congratulating FDA on its Draft Guidance, which could mean full speed ahead for fake alternatives to be labeled as ‘milk’ without containing any Milk, and it is a total fabrication,” Fischer explains.
ADC urges national and state organizations and individual dairy farmers to comment -- by July 31 -- asking FDA to enforce its current law called the “Standards of Identity on Milk” and to only allow real Milk products to be labeled as Milk, while the imposters that violate this are held accountable.
“It is wrong for consumers to be led down this path by the agency that is supposed to ensure their safety and guard against mislabeling,” says Fischer.
In the Guidance document, FDA describes the proliferation of milk-imposters, noting that in 2010, one-fifth of U.S. households purchased or consumed plant-based alternatives. By 2016, this grew to one-third, totaling $1.5 billion in sales that year, and from 2017 to 2019, annual fake sales increased nearly 15% to $2 billion, with refrigerated products accounting for approximately 90% and shelf-stable accounting for around 10%. By 2020, retail sales grew to about $2.4%, according to the FDA document.
“That is profit at the expense of consumers,” Fischer points out. “Voluntary nutrition statements are not enough. The FDA’s own Guidance admits that in its focus groups, 25% of consumers either believed there was real Milk in these fake drinks, or they were unsure. That’s a lot of people! Even worse, FDA admits research showing many consumers ‘lack an accurate understanding about the specific nutrients in plant-based milk alternatives,’ and that ‘a majority of consumers who purchase plant-based 'milk' alternatives state they do so because they believe the products are healthier than Milk!’
“This means there are consumers who believe almond beverages that are mislabeled as ‘milk’ could be real Milk, with almond flavoring. This is unacceptable. It is long past time for the dairy industry to stand up and take action by providing FDA with your thoughts on the inadequacy of a voluntary nutrition statement on a completely fake mislabeled ‘milk’ imposter,” Fisher adds.
“We believe ALL consumers matter. We believe this is an issue of health equity as well. Global beverage companies have profited on this mislabeling long enough. The stakes for human health and nutrition are too high. FDA has a responsibility to prevent mislabeling so that all consumers are in an equitable position of understanding the choices they ultimately make,” she explains.
Decades of non-enforcement of FDA’s own Standards of Identity have already affected consumer choices and have harmed dairy farmers by shrinking markets for their products by allowing other drinks to falsely profit on Milk’s good name and superior nutrition profile. Consumers who are confused may make different choices if they are not being misled.
“We are asking the FDA not to cave into the pressure of large global beverage makers. We ask that the FDA care about consumers who it admits are being misled. We ask that the FDA recognize its own role in the proliferation of billions of dollars in sales that are unfairly gained through the mislabeling of a rapidly growing assortment of fake drinks mislabeled as 'milk.' We are also calling on the FDA to stop the mislabeling of lab-created ‘fermentation-vat’ proteins that are being advertised to the food industry and to consumers as ‘dairy protein without the cow,’” Fischer asserts, noting these imposters are not complete dairy proteins and do not provide the complete nutritional package found in real dairy Milk as a beverage or ingredient.
“It’s time to be straight with consumers and to restore the integrity of the beverage labels they rely on. Only real Milk, is Milk.”
To comment on the FDA Draft Guidance, the docket number is FDA-2023-D-0451-0002. Here is the direct link to submit a comment within the federal rulemaking portal: https://www.regulations.gov