A Wisconsin senator claims plant-based dairy alternatives need to be rebranded.
Could dairy-free milk products soon be prohibited from marketing themselves as milks? During a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing this week, a senator from Wisconsin asked the Food and Drug Administration to consider asking manufacturers to re-identify dairy-free alternatives for consumers.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-WI, recently introduced a bill known as the "Dairy Pride Act" that would effectively prohibit what we're going to awkwardly call plant-based non-dairy beverage products from being labeled as "milk."
It turns out that the federal definition of the word "milk" is limited to this less than appetizing definition: "The lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows."
The senator's bill argues that, given the definition, plant-based milks should "be considered 'misbranded' and subject to enforcement." When pressed by Senator Baldwin, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb admitted that he had "actively stepped into this issue," according to Food Navigator.
He also said that the agency is collecting information and data on whether or not consumers are led to believe that plant-based milks are nutritionally equal substitutions for traditional dairy products—which has been debated in courts of law several times against producers like Blue Diamond.
But shoppers can all agree that it'd be hard to find any grocery store today that isn't selling at least one plant-based non-dairy beverage product that's labeled with the term "milk." You might wonder if the FDA ever stepped in before to ask producers to change the name of their product?
"Therefore, we do not consider 'soy milk' to be an appropriate common or usual name because it does not contain 'milk,'" the letter reads. "We do consider 'soy drink' or 'soy beverage,' however, as acceptable common or usual names for such products."
Could we all soon be pouring "cashew drink" into our cereal bowls rather than what we've all grown to know (and love) as cashew milk? If one thing is clear about the senator and commissioner's exchange on the Senate floor this week, it's that milk is legally defined—and plant-based dairy products do not meet that definition.
We're not too worried about any drastic changes soon, however: Gottlieb admitted that it would be a huge undertaking for the FDA to tackle such a widespread and established product in 2018. The FDA is currently collecting information and data before making any firm decisions in response to Senator Baldwin's request, and given the agency's history in efficiency, we're guessing that it might take a little while.