For years, milk producers and other dairy allies have pushed to amend labeling on plant-based alternatives, saying that these alternatives should not be branded as milk, cheese, or yogurt. This year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released draft guidance on the topic, acknowledging the public health concern regarding nutritional confusion but failing to draw the line in the sand that the dairy industry wants to see.
“For far too long, plant-based beverage manufacturers have blurred well-defined standards of identity to inappropriately and unfairly capitalize on dairy’s nutritional benefits while FDA has ignored its enforcement obligations,” said Jim Mulhern, the National Milk Producers Federation’s president and CEO. “FDA’s draft guidance is an encouraging first step toward promoting labeling transparency in the marketplace, but it’s not enough. Our comments outline a solution to the misleading labeling practices existing in the marketplace today, and provide clear, truthful labeling options for marketers of plant-based beverages.”
Current FDA regulations define dairy products as being from dairy animals, but the new draft guidance allows plant-based products to continue using dairy terms while recommending that voluntary statements be used to differentiate the nutrition of real milk vs. its alternatives. The FDA has not enforced its own definition in the marketplace for decades, which has further stoked the labeling tensions.
In the wake of this draft being made public back in February, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators even introduced legislation to prevent non-dairy products from using dairy-centric names: particularly “milk.”
The NMPF, for its part, is renewing its call to the FDA on the importance of transparent product labeling to ensure consumer understanding and informed purchasing decisions, and it is urging FDA to take prompt enforcement action against misbranded non-dairy beverages that resemble milk.
Because of the voluntary nature of the proposed guidance and the FDA’s undependable labeling enforcement history, the NMPF said it will continue its work in Congress to pass the bipartisan, bicameral DAIRY PRIDE Act. The DAIRY PRIDE Act would require the FDA to issue guidance for nationwide enforcement of mislabeled imitation dairy products within 90 days and require the FDA to report to Congress two years after enactment to hold the agency accountable for this update in their enforcement obligations. The legislation would also nullify any guidance that is not consistent with dairy standards of identity.