First Fake Food News, Now Fake Milk?

The Lempert Report
April 28, 2017

This is not a new story, but it is the latest food fight.

I’m not talking about the latest scandal in China, but the labeling war that has begun here in the US as dairy producers are calling for FDA to say that almond, soy and rice "milks" need to change their labels and stop using the word milk. 

On the other side is the Good Food Institute, who asked the Food and Drug Administration to declare that foods can use terms such as "milk" and "sausage," so long as they're modified to make clear what's in them.

It’s not a new story. In 1886, dairy producers supported a federal tax on margarine, which was dubbed "counterfeit butter" by representative William Price of Wisconsin, a major dairy state. In 1902, that law was amended to increase the tax on margarine dyed to look like butter. Some states went so far as to prohibit the sale of dyed margarine, which was naturally white.   

Milk's standard of identity says it is obtained by the "complete milking of one or more healthy cows." That's the issue that the dairy industry is citing for the FDA to enforce the guidelines. 

It seems like the work around that some brands are using is to list their labels in one word – like "soymilk" or "almondmilk," effectively conveying the image of dairy milk while still being legal in the letter of the law. But isn’t that a bit misleading?

Being the grandson of a dairy farmer, who milked cows, not plants, I have to agree. Soy and nut milks are terrific alternatives and have clearly stolen sales away from dairy based milks. Now with cellular agriculture derived dairy milks on the market it becomes even more confusing for shoppers. 

Maybe the fairest solution is for these non-dairy products to look to the frozen foods case where non-dairy frozen desserts do quite well without misleading labeling. And by the way, these products are so well established by now, removing the “milk” from their labels wouldn’t even make a dent in sales – just add to the transparency for our industry that we so covet.