U.S– Executives from the dairy industry have urged the Foods and Drug Administration (FDA) to avoid introducing ‘misleading labels’ arguing that adopting dairy descriptors into plant-based alternatives would lead to confusion among consumers.
In February 2023, the FDA issued a draft guidance that recommends that a plant-based milk alternative that is labeled with the term “milk” in its name include a voluntary nutrient statement that communicates how the product is nutritionally different from milk.
According to the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), the FDA proposal falls short of ending the problem of misleading plant-based labelling using dairy terminology.
However, NFMP supported the federal agency’s initiative to introduce nutrient statements highlighting nutritional differences between dairy milk and a plant-based alternative.
“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, NMFP president and CEO.
“FDA’S draft guidance is an encouraging first step towards promoting labelling transparency in the marketplace, but it’s not enough.”
The organization also added that the draft guidance seems to fail on two important legal grounds stating that the proposal rewrites and contradicts FDA’s existing regulation on misbranding and imitation labelling and second, it violates the US Constitution as imitation labelling requirements and misbranding provisions are included in an existing federal act.
Dairy industry bodies also complained about the lack of enforcement action taken by the FDA with regard to the current standards of identity for milk calling upon the federal agency to adopt standards of identity for plant‐based beverages or enforce existing regulations for imitation products in order to solve the problem.
Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) also criticized the federal agency for failing to enforce the established definition of milk; an act that has caused confusion and allegedly allowed consumers to be misled into consuming products of lesser nutritional value than milk.
DFA also proposed that voluntary nutrient statements should be mandatory and that manufacturers should include a quantitative statement on the back of the package that shows the differences identified.
However, some food manufacturers including Danone North America have argued that consumers can distinguish between dairy and alternatives, including on nutrition, while also stating that prohibiting the use of dairy terms when used in this context would violate the First Amendment.