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Dairy Defined:

On Labeling, Keep Your Eye on the Carton

March 13, 2023

FDA has finally offered its draft guidance on the “Labeling of Plant-Based (Nutritionally Inferior and Misleading) Milk Alternatives.” So now what?

Pay attention to this:

This is from FDA’s draft guidance, showing labeling best practices for plant-based manufacturers. The guidance itself would allow plant-based beverage manufacturers to keep using “milk” on their labeling, but only if – and this is a huge “if” – they include disclosures like the ones above specifying nutritional differences. That isn’t enough to truly protect consumers, but it’s a start. Even more importantly, the agency has accepted the reality of consumer confusion over nutritional equivalence, the main argument dairy and its allies have been making for years. With that premise acknowledged and accepted, the logical conclusion –end the confusion by getting dairy terms off the labels – becomes much easier to achieve.

The draft guidance gives plant-based beverage purveyors a choice: They can use “milk” with their plant-based term and disclose their differences (i.e. shortcomings) on their packaging, or they can skip the disclaimers by not using a dairy term at all. That’s the solution consumer advocates and dairy farmers have been pushing for all along.

The next few months will be telling in whether the plant-based beverage industry gets the message.

If this guidance is taken seriously, the most misleading labels should start to disappear as packaging gets updated and store shelves get restocked. Many mislabeled “milks” that are really drinks or beverages should start being labeled as drinks or beverages. For those that stubbornly insist on misleading consumers, disclosures should appear – real ones with clear statements, not wiggle words in tiny print that say differences exist without stating what those differences are. The guidance is voluntary, and it’s only a draft, but FDA has put the industry on notice. The next move’s on them.

And it’s on us too, to make sure positive change really happens. FDA’s public comment period on the guidance lasts until April 24. NMPF has directions on how you can submit a comment. Meanwhile, take pictures to post on social media. Write companies that aren’t living up to the labeling example above. FDA’s guidance is far from enough. That’s why we’re pushing to pass the DAIRY PRIDE Act, which would direct FDA to enforce its own standard of identity for milk – which, had that occurred in the first place, plant-based misinformation would never have proliferated.

The fight for transparent labeling, is far from over, but it’s going the right way. Keep your eye on the carton. Change should be coming. It’s up to all of us to make sure that it does.