Plant-Based Foods Association responds to FDA on “milk” labelling

The Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA) has responded on behalf of its 130 members to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s proposals to change the use of dairy names for plant-based alternatives.

PBFA conducted a preliminary analysis of the comments posted so far by FDA and found that most people, at least 74%, are in support of using the term “milk” on the label of plant-based milks.

“We maintain that this entire exercise is a solution in search of a problem,” said Michele Simon, executive director of PBFA. “At a time when resources are scarce, our federal government should not be concerned with how “almond milk” is labelled. Aren’t there higher priorities, such as a safety of our food supply, for FDA to worry about?

“Moreover, the marketplace disruption being pushed by the dairy lobby would hinder innovation, create untenable costs for our members, and ultimately be found unconstitutional, making the entire effort a waste of everybody’s time and resources. We encourage the FDA to abide by free market principles and not restrict labeling to unfairly favour the dairy industry,” she added.

According to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, the reason for the agency’s inquiry is that “consumers should be able to know at a quick glance what type of product they’re purchasing …”

In response, PBFA claims this is already the case: “Companies selling dairy alternatives are using easy to understand, clear, descriptive, and truthful language on labels. Our members and others in this category, are using common English words that consumers understand: milk, cheese, yogurt and butter. To our members, and to consumers, these words represent functionality, form and taste, not necessarily the origin of the primary ingredient. They also are using qualifiers such as “non-dairy”, “dairy-free”, “plant-based”, and / or “vegan” to make the labels clear.”

Research commissioned by PBFA found that:

  • More than four in ten households buy both plant-based and cow’s milk. This data-point was also confirmed by the dairy industry’s own recent research.
  • The vast majority of consumers of both cow’s milk (64%) and plant-based milk (71%) agree that the term “milk” best identifies plant-based milk products.
  • Alternative names for plant-based milks – such as “drinks” or “beverages” – are not preferred by consumers.

PBFA cited how expensive it would be for companies to change their labelling to comply with rule changes – up to $1million, “which could put many small-medium sized companies out of business”.

PBFA cites multiple court decisions throwing out claims of consumer confusion, including a recent 9th Circuit case, where courts “considered and dismissed lawsuits that claimed makers of milk alternatives were deceiving consumers.” One judge noted that, “it is simply implausible that a reasonable consumer would mistake a product like soymilk or almond milk with dairy milk from a cow.”

Even from a nutrition standpoint, courts have not been persuaded. As one put it: “a reasonable consumer (indeed, even an unsophisticated consumer) would not assume that two distinct products have the same nutritional content; if the consumer cared about the nutritional content, they would consult the label.”

PBFA’s comment concludes by urging FDA to do the right thing: “We urge the FDA to adopt policies that encourage this innovation, not stifle it, and that will allow consumers to make informed choices. Plant-based food producers offer options that consumers want and recognise. If those foods are forced to be identified by obscure, contrived names that consumers are unfamiliar with, innovation will likely be stifled, and consumers will be deprived of the choices they deserve.”

To read the Plant Based Foods Association’s complete submission to the Food and Drug Administration’s RFI, please click here.

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