Got Milk? Are You Sure?

While the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] describes milk under Title 21 as “the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows,” some companies now label a number of plant-based drinkable products using the term “milk”. Beth Briczinski, who is vice president for dairy foods and nutrition at the National Milk Producers Federation [NMPF], is now questioning these plant-based products rightful use of the term milk and is further suggesting these products confuse consumers into believing the products have the same nutrients as traditional milk from a cow.

The issue has recently seen thirty-two members of Congress send a letter to the FDA seeking the Administration address the NMPF’s concerns over the proper use of the term.

Briczinski and the NMPF’s list of offending plant-based products include soy, almond and rice based products, as well as, hemp, sunflower, macadamia, and pistachio. Nancy Chapman, executive director of the Soyfoods Association of North America [SANA], responds to the NMPF’s criticism by suggesting the term milk, in practice, has a very broad meaning to include any liquid taken from a particular protein source regardless of whether the source is plant based, such as coconut or soy, or animal based, such as a cow or a goat.

This week’s Congressional letter is the latest round in an ongoing battle over the use of the term milk in product labeling. In 2000, the NMPF filed a formal complaint with the FDA asking that the agency crack down on such labeling. Three years prior, the SANA petitioned the FDA to recognize “soymilk” as the common and accepted name for a product derived from soybeans and water.

To date, the FDA has declined to take a stand on the terminology dispute and the latest Congressional letter seems unlikely to change the FDA’s current stance.