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NMPF Urges FDA to Stop Imitators’ Abuse of Dairy Terms

February 1, 2019

An important phase of NMPF’s months-long campaign against the misuse of dairy terms by plant-based imitators concluded in late January with the end of a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) comment period. The agency received more than 10,000 comments weighing in on the issue.

NMPF provided a toolkit of resources to help members with comment submissions, including an instructional video, colorful graphics, a dedicated webpage and a social media marketing campaign as part of the campaign. Each element focused on the importance of FDA enforcing its existing labeling standards.

In its own comments, NMPF focused heavily on consumer confusion over the nutritional content of non-dairy imitators.

“Consumers are being misled about the nutritional content of plant-based imitators relative to real dairy products, creating marketplace confusion and inappropriately blurring well-defined standards of identity,” NMPF said. “That confusion creates a public health issue by causing harm to our nation’s children and, potentially, other consumers – a concern also raised by FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb.”

Shortly before comments closed, NMPF released consumer research showing widespread consumer disapproval of dairy terms being appropriated by fake-milk producers and confusion over the nutritional content of milk versus plant-based imitators.

The survey conducted by IPSOS a global market research and consulting firm, found:

  • Only 20 percent of all consumers said plant-based beverages should be labeled milk, as U.S. dietary guidelines do not recommend imitators as a substitute for dairy milk; even when limited to buyers of plant-based drinks, support for mislabeling rose to only 41 percent.
  • About 50 percent of consumers mistakenly perceive that the main ingredient of a plant-based beverage is the plant itself; such drinks are mostly flavored water.
  • More than one-third of consumers erroneously believe plant-based beverages have the same or more protein than dairy milk. Milk has up to eight times more protein than its imitators.

Earlier survey data, also from IPSOS, found that 61 percent of consumers believe FDA should restrict non-dairy beverage companies from using the term “milk” on their product labels. Only 23 percent said FDA should not limit the term “milk” to dairy products.

“NMPF has diligently encouraged FDA to act for over 40 years,” said NMPF. “FDA inaction has allowed marketplace confusion to fester while state and international bodies fill the breach. NMPF supports marketplace clarity and free speech.”

The comment period completed simply signals the next phase of NMPF effort on this issue, which, until resolved favorably by the FDA, will remain a crucial issue for dairy. NMPF will remain vigilant in spotlighting this issue, working with lawmakers, allied groups and public-health professionals to inform and educate.