Illustration by Jonathan Hill
From The Asian Reporter, V33, #3 (March 6, 2023), page 10.
No cow needed: Oat and soy can be called milk, FDA
By Jonel Aleccia
AP Health Writer
Soy, oat, almond, and other drinks that bill themselves as "milk" can
keep using the name, according to draft federal rules released recently.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials issued guidance that
says plant-based beverages don’t pretend to be from dairy animals — and
that U.S. consumers aren’t confused by the difference.
Dairy producers for years have called for the FDA to crack down on
plant-based drinks and other products that they say masquerade as
animal-based foods and cloud the real meaning of "milk."
Under the draft rules, the agency recommends that beverage makers
label their products clearly by the plant source of the food, such as
"soy milk" or "cashew milk."
The rules also call for voluntary extra nutrition labels that note
when the drinks have lower levels of nutrients than dairy milk, such as
calcium, magnesium, or vitamin D. They would continue to allow labels
that note when plant-based drinks have higher levels. Fortified soy milk
is the only plant-based food included in the dairy category of U.S.
dietary guidelines because of its nutrient levels.
The new guidelines are aimed at providing consumers clear nutrition
information, FDA commissioner Dr. Robert Califf said in a statement. The
draft rules do not apply to nondairy products other than beverages, such
The National Milk Producers Federation, an industry trade group,
applauded the call for extra nutrition information on drink labels, but
said they rejected the FDA’s conclusion that plant-based drinks can be
called milk because it’s a "common and usual name."
The Good Food Institute, a group that advocates for plant-based
products, objected to the extra labelling in a statement, saying "the
guidance misguidedly admonishes companies to make a direct comparison"
with cow’s milk, even though key nutrients are already required to be
In recent years, the number of plant-based drinks has exploded to
include dozens of varieties, including cashew, coconut, hemp, and
quinoa-based beverages. Although the drinks are made from the liquid
extracts of plant materials, they are frequently labelled — and
described — as "milks."
In the U.S., almond milk is the most popular variety, but oat milk
has been seeing the fastest growth. Still, nondairy sales are dwarfed by
traditional milk. Sales of refrigerated cow’s milk grew to $12.3 billion
in the 52 weeks ending January 28, compared to $2.5 billion for nondairy
milk, according to NielsenIQ.
In the past, lawmakers in dairy states have tried to get bills passed
that would require the FDA to enforce a federal standard that defines
"milk" as the product of "milking one or more healthy cows."
The agency will accept comments on the draft guidelines through April
AP Business Writer Dee-Ann Durbin contributed to this report.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support
from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media
Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
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