Imitation Dairy Products FAQ

1. Who decides what to name a food? What about using a Dictionary to decide how foods should be named?

Names for foods are not based on common vernacular or a definition in a dictionary.

Names for foods are determined by the FDA. Some foods have defined standards of identity.


2. What are Standards of Identity?

Standards of Identity are legal standards, defined by the FDA, for foods regarding a food’s minimum quality specifications, including permitted ingredients and processing requirements.

Standards of Identity emphasize the composition (the ingredients or components in the food) or processing requirements (how the food is manufactured) for a food product. They do not include things like how full a box of cereal must be, or how many yellow peas you can have in a bag of green peas, etc.

Standards of Identity were created to maintain the integrity of food products and ensure that foods meet the expectation of the buyer.


3. What foods have Standards of Identity? How can I learn about the Standard of Identity for a specific food?

Many staple foods have standards of identity, including many dairy products. Standards of identity have been established for milk, cream, sour cream, yogurt, ice cream, and some types of cheeses (cream, Cheddar, Blue, Swiss, etc.).

FDA regulations may be found in Title 21 of the Code of Federation Regulations (CFR). If you’d like to see if a food has a standard of identity, or to read the standard of identity for a particular food, you can look in Title 21 of the CFR (available online). Standards of identity can be found in parts 100 to 169.

The standards of identity for dairy products are found in parts 131 through 135, but there are also standards of identity for canned fruit (21 CR 145), eggs (21 CFR 160), chocolate and cocoa products (21 CFR 163), etc.


4. What if the food I looked up doesn’t have a standard of identity? How is that name decided?

If a food doesn’t have a standard of identity, then it is named by its “common or usual name”. The FDA still determines what a common or usual name for a food is, but FDA regulations state that a common or usual name for a food cannot be similar to the name of another food for which a standard of identity exists (unless it meets the standard of identity for that product).

Alternatives for fluid milk (“soy milk”, “rice milk”, “hemp milk”, etc.) do not have standards of identity, so they must be named by their common or usual name. However, these terms are similar to “milk”, so these cannot be the common or usual names for these products as this violates FDA’s regulations. Because they do not meet the standard of identity for “milk”, they cannot use the term in their name.


5. Why doesn’t “milk” need to specify that is it “dairy milk” or “cow’s milk”?

“Milk” has a standard of identity at 21 CFR 131.110.

Part of the standard of identity (which is the federal definition) of “milk” is that it obtained from cows. Adding “dairy” or “cow’s” in front of “milk” is not necessary because the definition for this product already includes cows as the source.

The standard of identity for milk reads… “Milk is the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows.” There is additional information about the composition of this product (fat and milk solids) as well.


6. The National Milk Producers Federation sent a letter to FDA. Are we trying to “claim rights” to and restrict the use of dairy terminology for products?

The National Milk Producers Federation is NOT trying to change any regulations. We sent a letter to FDA asking them to enforce regulations that already exist (the Standards of Identity, see FAQ #2 and 3).

The existing Standards of Identity clearly state that terms like “milk”, “cheese”, “yogurt”, “ice cream”, etc. apply to products made from the milk of cows. Non-dairy alternatives that mimic these products do not meet those standards of identity, and National Milk Producers Federation asked the FDA to enforce their labeling regulations.


7. Does the National Milk Producers Federation think dairy alternatives shouldn’t be sold?

The National Milk Producers Federation is not trying to remove dairy alternatives from the marketplace. Consumers make choices about what foods they purchase for a variety of reasons, and should have options.

The National Milk Producers Federation does think dairy alternatives should be properly labeled. As they are now, many dairy alternatives are misbranded.

Misbranding was defined by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act). Foods are misbranded for various reasons including 1) if they have a false or misleading label, or 2) if it is an imitation of another foods unless it bears the word “imitation”.


8. What should these alternative products be named if they aren’t supposed to use the names of standardized foods?

Actually, there are many dairy alternatives that ARE properly labeled that are available in the marketplace now.

There are plant-based beverages that use terms like “soy drink”, “rice beverage”, etc. There are also plant-based foods that use terms like “cultured soy” or “non-dairy frozen dessert”, instead of “soy yogurt” or “rice ice cream”, respectively.


9. What about milk from goats, sheep, etc.?

If you see “milk” being sold, this refers to cow’s milk (see FAQ #5), based on the standard of identity for “milk”.

When milk from other mammals is sold, the term “milk” cannot be used alone – it must be qualified by including the animal (“goat’s milk”, “sheep’s milk”, etc.).

In fact, there are standards of identity for products made from the milk of other mammals (goats, sheep, and water buffalo), like cheeses (21 CFR 133) and ice cream (21 CFR 135).


10. What about coconut milk?

Coconut milk has an international standard, defined by the Codex Alimentarius (the international food code).

The standard for coconut milk is Standard #420.