NMPF’s Detlefsen on the Scourge of Lab-Based Milk Imposters


NMPF Chief Counsel Clay Detlefsen discusses the even more urgent need for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to enforce beverage standards of identity as lab-based milk imposters try to use dairy terms in the marketplace. “Milk has got 13 essential nutrients. It’s got 400 different fatty acids. It’s got two categories of proteins, casein and whey, numerous micronutrients,” he said. “You cannot replicate that in a laboratory or elsewhere. I mean milk is milk. It’s natural, and it’s good for you. And you can’t duplicate that in the lab.” Detlefsen spoke in an interview with the National Association of Farm Broadcasters.

Need for Lab-Based Beverage Action as Clear as a Milk Label

It’s the difference between

“Water, animal-free whey protein (from fermentation), sunflower oil, sugar, less than 1% of: vitamin A, vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin), vitamin D2, riboflavin, citrus fiber, salt, dipotassium phosphate, acacia, gellan gum, mixed tocopherols (antioxidant), calcium potassium phosphate citrate, natural flavor,” …

and this:

We’ve warned FDA of the problems resulting from this fabrication, and we hope our warning doesn’t fall on deaf ears. After more than four decades of plant-based imposters using dairy terms that violate the agency’s Standard of Identity for milk, lab-based fermenters of single dairy proteins are trying to mislead consumers in the exact same way – by creating a false impression that their slurries of highly processed ingredients are equivalent to dairy.

They’re not. And consumers shouldn’t be led to believe otherwise.

In a letter to FDA asking the agency to take action against the brand Bored Cow, which is marketing its beverage as “animal-free dairy milk” because it uses a single fermented whey protein (real milk has dozens of protein variants and literally hundreds of different fatty acids), the National Milk Producers Federation notes that “it is baseless, preposterous and absurd” to call such a product milk.

“In the interest of public health, the misleading labeling charade must end before it gets out of hand,” NMPF writes. “FDA must act, and must do so now.”

Will it? While FDA’s proposed guidance on the naming of plant-based beverages finally admits a problem, the lab-based conundrum shows how its purported solution – allowing imitators to use the term “milk” if they disclose nutritional differences – falls short. It’s not just about the limited nutrition knowledge we have. It’s about the substance itself, and the complex interaction among naturally-occurring  ingredients that any honest marketer, scientist or regulator knows we don’t fully understand. That humility, and the need to protect against consumer confusion that’s been acknowledged by the last three FDA commissioners, is more than enough reason to take action now.

Because without it, the imposters will proliferate, the headaches will grow, and the marketplace will only become less transparent, in yet another abandonment of FDA’s mission to protect consumers. FDA must enforce its Standard of Identity rules on lab-based dairy labeling now. The need is as basic as the ingredient listing on a bottle of milk. FDA can’t let that clear principle be dragged through the mud – or whatever substances these fake “milks” are made of.