NMPF Tells FDA: Reject Vegan Petition Encouraging Misleading Labeling Tactics

In the latest chapter in the debate over the proper use of dairy food terms, National Milk and its members told the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last month to reject a petition by a vegan organization that would undermine federal standards of identity for food and encourage misleading marketing tactics of imitation dairy products.

Earlier this spring, the Good Food Institute (GFI) filed a petition requesting that FDA permit manufacturers of plant-based products to use labels that employ standardized dairy terms such as “milk.” In response, NMPF submitted comments on Aug. 29 declaring the petition at odds with established laws and inconsistent with FDA regulations, which state that foods labeled “milk” must come from an animal. Many of NMPF’s members, along with other dairy organizations, provided similar input to FDA. The 130 comments ran 12-to-1 in favor of NMPF’s position.

“GFI’s petition flies in the face of established law and common sense,” said NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern. “Nothing has happened in the last 20 years that makes it OK to combine plant or nut powders with water, sugar, emulsifiers, stabilizers, and other chemicals, and call it ‘milk.’ This request is wrong on its merits and is designed to further mislead consumers.”

In its comments, NMPF argued that plant-based beverages use standardized dairy terms “to imitate milk and other real dairy products, and to benefit unfairly from the reputation that real dairy foods have for nutritional content and quality.” However, none of these beverages has been found to contain the consistent nutrient package found in cow’s milk and therefore cannot be considered an adequate replacement.

Labeling non-dairy products with dairy terminology, the organization added, can mislead consumers into thinking the imitation contains the same nutritional benefits. GFI’s petition “would only exacerbate this misconception,” NMPF said.

Instead, truthfully labeling these foods as plant-based beverages is the “simplest and most certain way to promote honesty and fair dealing in the interests of consumers,” according to the comments.

NMPF also challenged GFI’s argument that enforcing standards of identity is “anti-competitive,” and said plant-based drinks are welcome in the marketplace so long as they are labeled appropriately.