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Fake-Dairy Drumbeat Continues as NMPF Calls Out Research, Balmer Cites Imposters

May 13, 2019

NMPF and its allies are continuing their steady drumbeat against dairy imposters while President Donald Trump considers a replacement for departed FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, working to ensure that the fake-dairy issue that gained widespread public attention in 2018 stays on the radar of the next agency chief.

In early May, the organization spoke against shoddy research undertook by the Plant Based Foods Association and the research firm it hired to do an incomplete and poorly executed analysis of comments in the FDA docket looking at nutritional confusion in plant-based versus dairy beverages that closed in January.

As has been the case throughout the current labeling debate, the fake-milk study mischaracterized what FDA is considering, trying to turn a serious discussion of consumer transparency and nutritional inferiority into a red-herring debate over whether consumers think almonds are a dairy product.

“None of the fake foods stealing dairy terms contain the same nutrition as the milk or dairy product they attempt to imitate,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation. “The vegan and animal rights activists who were encouraged by our opponents in this debate to flood the docket with comments understand that these fake products don’t contain milk. But that’s never been the issue. Research clearly shows that consumers don’t understand the nutritional differences between real, natural dairy products and the inferior, imitation products masquerading as milk.”

The rising tide of fake dairy was also called out by NMPF Executive Vice President Tom Balmer, who in his capacity as executive director of the American Butter Institute, spoke on the rise of misbranded products at that organization’s annual meeting in Chicago.

Balmer pointed that for generations, plant-based butter imitations have been marketed under a federal standard of identity as margarine or under the non-standardized term “vegetable oil spread.” Now, in the face of declining margarine and spread sales, companies are seeking to capitalize on butter’s resurgent popularity by misappropriating the term “butter” and applying it to products that clearly do not meet butter’s federal standard of identity.

This practice damages the integrity of food standards, Balmer said, and misleads consumers who may believe they’re buying an equivalent to butter when, in fact, no such quality standard is being met.

“Just because consumers are rejecting plant-based margarines and spreads, companies can’t turn around and violate federal law by slapping the term ‘butter’ on a product label and pretend it’s worthy of a dairy term,” Balmer said. “A falsely labeled product is a misbranded product, and misbranded products don’t belong on grocery shelves. The proliferation of these products is eroding the integrity of the marketplace, and the FDA needs to stop it before its own rules become meaningless.”

ABI filed a lengthy complaint to the FDA in September calling out imitators. NMPF filed a citizen petition with the agency in February, outlining a roadmap toward a constructive resolution of the problem of mislabeled, fake dairy products. That petition may be accessed here.