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Non-dairy beverages like soy and almond milk may not be 'milk,' FDA suggests

Got milk? If you're buying "milk" made with non-dairy products like almonds or oats, the US Food and Drug Administrat...

Posted: Jul 19, 2018 9:09 PM
Updated: Jul 19, 2018 9:09 PM

Got milk? If you're buying "milk" made with non-dairy products like almonds or oats, the US Food and Drug Administration isn't so sure you do.

During a the Politico Pro Summit on Tuesday, FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb questioned whether the "standards of identity" applied to milk in the United States are being enforced correctly.

FDA commissioner says "standards of identity" applied to milk in the United States may not be enforced correctly

Producers of popular non-dairy drinks say their products are correctly labeled

The FDA describes milk as "the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows." That definition doesn't leave room for vegan alternatives to call themselves "milk," though a number of products on the market do.

Non-dairy milks, including soy, almond, rice and coconut milk, are juices from nuts, seeds, grains and legumes that may be fortified with vitamins and minerals to deliver the equivalent nutrient profile and sometimes taste and consistency of cow's milk.

The agency is not commenting on its plans or Gottlieb's observation that the government is "probably not" enforcing its own standard of identity for milk, but FDA press officer Deborah Kotz said that "food names inform consumers about what they're buying, and standard of identities ensure that food meets certain standards in terms of what's in it."

The National Milk Producers Federation argues that those standards are not being enforced correctly. Gottlieb's comments come after the foundation ratcheted up its lobbying efforts.

Chris Galen, senior vice president of communications for the federation, said the organization has doubled down on its work in the past 18 months, not simply because the FDA got a new commissioner but because "plant-based imitation products" seem to be growing in popularity. He cites the existence and widespread availability of not only almond- and soy-based drinks but those made of hemp, flax, quinoa and even potatoes.

Though cows are mentioned in the definition, federal standards also allow for "milk" to be produced from other animals but not from vegetable or plant products, Galen said. Dictionary definitions are also broader and make allowances for nuts, which could eventually lead to legal action from producers of non-dairy beverages if the FDA begins enforcing the standard.

Kotz noted that "Many (standards of identity) have existed for decades and at the time they were developed, the FDA could not foresee the types of new products that would be developed in the future using different ingredients and/or manufacturing processes."

To the foundation, the producers of these beverages want to co-opt the "positive reputation" and "health halo" associated with milk.

Though non-dairy beverages are often substituted for cow's milk, "they are not able to completely mimic the nutritional profile," according to Vandana Sheth, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Rice milk, coconut milk and almond milk provide minimal amounts of protein compared with dairy milk, and if the alternatives are not fortified with vitamins such as calcium, D and B12, you might be missing those, too.

To put it bluntly, "milk" sounds better than "nut juice," Galen said, acknowledging that it makes sense that companies would rather their products be identified with the former option.

Producers of popular non-dairy drinks, though, say that the enforcement of the standards is sufficient and that their products are correctly labeled as "milk."

"In the United States, 'soymilk,' 'almondmilk,' and 'coconutmilk' are the common and usual names for plant-based products under the current meaning of FDA regulation, and we communicate on our products with clear references," said Michael Neuwirth, senior director of external communications for Danone North America, which owns non-dairy milk brand Silk.

"Dairy and plant-based products are clearly labeled with nutrition facts so people know what's in the products and can choose the ones that best fit their dietary needs and preferences. We do not believe further labeling standards are necessary."

Galen argues that some brands, like Oatly, sell their products without a "milk" label overseas and face no adverse consequences.

Whether Silk and its American contemporaries will have to follow suit remains to be seen, but Galen says he and his organization hope "the FDA will hold these plant-based marketers to the law" while making room for them in the market.

"We're not saying these imitation plant-based products don't have a role in the marketplace," he said, noting that he understands the usefulness of non-dairy beverages for consumers with dietary, religious or ideological restrictions, "but the products have to be labeled as they are."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 111322

Reported Deaths: 3202
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7796173
DeSoto670178
Harrison484483
Jackson435081
Rankin383786
Madison373993
Lee344979
Forrest296377
Jones283782
Washington252197
Lafayette242642
Lauderdale2376131
Lamar217138
Bolivar198377
Oktibbeha195854
Neshoba1814111
Lowndes174962
Panola166337
Leflore160787
Sunflower157649
Warren152755
Monroe145972
Pontotoc143819
Pike137256
Lincoln135555
Copiah135036
Marshall134826
Scott123829
Coahoma123436
Grenada120038
Yazoo119333
Simpson118649
Union115225
Holmes113560
Leake113340
Tate113239
Itawamba110424
Pearl River108958
Adams104343
Prentiss102619
Wayne98721
Alcorn96012
George93917
Marion92942
Covington92525
Tippah85921
Newton84427
Chickasaw82625
Winston82221
Tallahatchie81825
Tishomingo79341
Hancock78127
Attala77626
Clarke72349
Clay67621
Jasper67417
Walthall63327
Calhoun61412
Noxubee59617
Smith58316
Claiborne53216
Montgomery52923
Tunica52217
Lawrence49914
Yalobusha49314
Perry48122
Carroll46312
Greene45518
Stone45014
Amite41713
Quitman4146
Humphreys41216
Jefferson Davis39811
Webster36613
Wilkinson33020
Kemper32015
Benton3154
Sharkey27814
Jefferson27010
Franklin2373
Choctaw2036
Issaquena1063
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 153016

Reported Deaths: 2633
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson22563372
Mobile14335314
Tuscaloosa10023133
Montgomery9759196
Madison904893
Shelby709960
Lee644966
Baldwin640569
Marshall428248
Calhoun412759
Etowah405749
Morgan396833
Houston364632
DeKalb319628
Elmore310752
St. Clair282142
Limestone270828
Walker268892
Talladega258435
Cullman227623
Lauderdale208740
Autauga201029
Jackson200915
Franklin199731
Colbert192228
Russell19053
Dallas185627
Blount184824
Chilton181731
Escambia171328
Coffee16669
Covington166029
Dale163451
Pike130512
Chambers130143
Tallapoosa128686
Clarke127117
Marion104729
Butler99840
Barbour9889
Marengo97221
Winston90413
Geneva8417
Pickens80517
Lawrence80031
Randolph79814
Bibb79114
Hale74529
Cherokee72214
Clay71912
Lowndes70127
Henry6376
Bullock63517
Monroe6319
Washington62212
Crenshaw59330
Perry5806
Wilcox55912
Conecuh55713
Fayette55312
Cleburne5287
Macon52820
Sumter46721
Lamar4565
Choctaw38712
Greene33916
Coosa1973
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