The Dustup over Milk vs. “Milk-Like” Beverages

Some years ago, a combination of food scientists and food marketers developed a soy-based beverage that carried an amount of protein and nutrients similar at least in some recognizable fashion to nature’s perfect food: milk. Rather than calling this new food product “soy juice,” or “soy-based beverage,” or some other clever brand name, the productwas known simply as “soy milk.” While the term is common enough now to avoid raising even a question, the question could be posed “how do you milk a soybean?”

The answer, according to groups like the National Milk Producers Federation, is simple: you don’t.

That simple fact, it turns out, is the main thrust of a renewed effort by NMPF and dairy industry leaders to convince the US Food and Drug Administration that it has a regulatory responsibility to stop the ever-increasing practice of labeling plant-based dairy imitations with names like “milk,” “cheese,” or “yogurt.” FDA failed to do so at the outset of the soy milk era, but with a bloom of products ranging far beyond the now traditional bean-based alternative to lactose, dairy farmers are increasingly concerned about these competitors unfairly benefiting from marketing work done by the dairy industry.

From a fascinating story on the issue from USA Today:

Got milk? The National Milk Producers Federation says you don’t, not if what you grab from the dairy case today is soy, rice or almond milk.

For the second time in 10 years, the federation has written to the Food and Drug Administration asking that the term “milk” be reserved for cow’s milk, although it’s OK with also using the word for goat, sheep or water buffalo milk — any of the various “mammalian lacteal secretions.” The federation says the FDA should require that plant-based beverages be labeled something else, noting terms such as “drinks,” “beverages” or even “imitation milk.”

“The FDA is “letting the bastardization of dairy terms proliferate,” says federation spokesman Christopher Galen. The group has even launched a Facebook page: “They Don’t Got Milk.”

“We had to do something,” Galen says.

I spoke about this issues yesterday with one of Ohio’s top dairy leaders, Scott Higgins of the American Dairy Association Mideast and Ohio Dairy Producers Association.