Should Plant-Based Milk Be Called ‘Milk’? The FDA May Investigate.

In an embarrassingly obvious attempt to prop up the struggling dairy industry, 25 members of Congress have asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to investigate and take action against manufacturers of plant-based milk. What did these companies do to get such negative congressional attention? They dared to call their product “milk.”

Milk has to come from a cow’s udder to merit being called “milk,” they say. Calling plant-based products “milk” is “misleading to consumers, harmful to the dairy industry, and a violation of milk’s standard of identity,” according to the letter sent to the FDA.

Without question, Big Dairy is behind this effort. It has found itself 25 congressional members who are willing to help whip this non-issue into a frenzy. Big Dairy hopes to knock plant-based milks off their incredible trajectory of growing consumer popularity.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Photo credit: Thinkstock

“While consumers are entitled to choose imitation products, it is misleading and illegal for manufacturers of these items to profit from the ‘milk’ name,” the letter to the FDA states. “These products should be allowed on the market only when accurately labeled.”

Milk, the letter to the FDA insists, has “a clear standard of identity” defined in federal law as “the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows.” The congressional reps supporting the dairy industry want the FDA to force plant-based milk producers to call it something else.

Plant-Based Foods Have Dairy, Egg and Meat Industries Running Scared

What this move represents is true fear. Big Dairy is losing ground, and losing it fast. If this sounds awfully familiar, you’re right. Back in October 2014, Unilever, the maker of Hellmann’s mayonnaise, challenged vegan start-up company Hampton Creek over what it was calling one of its products.

“Just Mayo” couldn’t use the word “mayo,” argued Unilever to the FDA, because “mayo” means “mayonnaise.” To be “mayonnaise” under the FDA’s definition, a product must include eggs. “Just Mayo” was not legally “mayonnaise,” they argued, and must therefore be called something else.

Photo credit: Susan BIrd

Photo credit: Susan Bird

In the end, Unilever dropped the lawsuit, apparently realizing it had inadvertently handed Hampton Creek a public relations coup. Oh, and guess what? Unilever released a vegan version of its mayonnaise in 2015. Yes, that happened. Giggle all you want because karma’s great.

The public is turning to plant-based milks for all the reasons you might imagine:

  • It’s healthier for you. Most plant-based milks contain more calcium than cow’s milk — up to 45 percent of your daily recommended value. Plant-based milks are protein powerhouses and are fortified with vitamin D and A. Some are also enriched with vitamin E, B12 and iron. There’s nothing cow’s milk has that plant-based milks do not also have.
  • It does not harm animals. The dairy industry is hell on earth for cows. Female cows live out their lives being forcibly impregnated over and over so they will continue to produce milk to feed the babies they aren’t allowed to keep. Female calves follow in their mothers’ footsteps as a new generation of dairy cows. Male calves are shipped off to become veal in a few short weeks.
  • It’s better for the environment. Raising cattle is hard on the environment. We grow an enormous amount of crops just to feed cows, and their waste and methane emissions are often a crippling source of air and water pollution. Research by Cornell University indicates it takes perhaps 14 calories of energy to produce a single calorie of non-organic cow’s milk. On the other hand, using soy milk as an example, it takes about 0.75 calories of energy to produce from soybeans a calorie of protein. Soy protein is 13 times more energy efficient.

Frankly, there’s no good reason today not to reject animal-based dairy. That undeniable truth has the dairy industry running scared.

A Legal Challenge Over a Label Won’t Stop the Plant-Based Momentum

Big Dairy, legal challenges over what your competitor is calling its plant-based product will get you only so far. You will still lose in the end because the public is not stupid. It’s not the plant-based companies that are trying to fool consumers, it’s the dairy industry.

The dairy industry seems to think if a container can’t say “milk” on it, somehow we won’t be able to find it or buy it. Eventually, it might be called “mylk” instead of “milk,” perhaps. No matter. We’ll be buying soy milk, coconut milk, cashew milk, almond milk, rice milk, hemp milk, oat milk and pea protein milk no matter what the FDA decides the label has to say.

Hey, dairy industry executives — take a cue from Unilever, Tyson Foods and other companies. Buy a stake in the industry that’s about to consume and ruin you. Start transitioning from the old-fashioned product you’re still making to the new one that the public clamors for. Be a part of the revolution, not a speed bump to progress. That’s smart business.

Fail to do this and you risk being left behind. Your industry is dying. Give the cows a break and move with the times. Embrace the future of milk and become part of it.

Right now, you just look desperate and ridiculous. Arguing about the definition of milk is not the answer to your monumental problem and you know it.

Photo credit: Susan Bird

206 comments

Jim V
Jim V5 months ago

thanks

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Jerome S
Jerome S5 months ago

thanks for sharing.

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Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill8 months ago

Who cares what it's called? Big waste of money & time.

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Beth M
Beth M9 months ago

ty

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Beth M
Beth M9 months ago

ty

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Beth M
Beth M9 months ago

ty

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Beth M
Beth M9 months ago

ty

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Beth M
Beth M9 months ago

ty

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Beth M
Beth M9 months ago

ty

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Beth M
Beth M9 months ago

ty

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