THE National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) is questioning the Food & Drug Administration's effort to regulate common or unusual names of certain types of sugar to be used on food labels while overlooking the misuse of dairy-specific names in foods with no milk content.
"Getting a sugar fix is fine and well, as long as the FDA also turns its attention to a problem that has been ignored for more than a decade," said Beth Briczinski, NMPF vice president of dairy foods and nutrition. "Unfortunately, the agency's lack of effort on misbranded and mislabeled imitation dairy products has left a bitter taste in our mouths."
In the March 5 Federal Register, FDA reopened a draft guidance — originally published in the Oct. 9, 2009, Federal Register — on common or usual names for the solid or dried form of sugarcane syrup as an ingredient.
According to FDA, the dried form of sugarcane syrup is "dried cane syrup," and sweeteners derived from sugarcane should not be declared on food labels as "evaporated cane juice," which falsely suggests that the sweeteners are juice.
As FDA focuses on its concern over mislabeling sugar, meanwhile, the agency is allowing soy, rice, nut and hemp products to define themselves as milk, according to NMPF.
NMPF said it shares FDA's concern over false information on food labels. Clearly, the name of food appearing on food packaging communicates nutritional information to consumers. Hence, non-dairy alternatives using the terms "milk" or "yogurt" suggest that the product has the nutritional equivalent of dairy milk or yogurt, Briczinski said.
In a letter to FDA after a request for comments, NMPF wrote that it is not advising FDA "on an appropriate name for what would be obvious to most consumers is a type of sweetener but, rather, to question the agency's allocation of resources to such an effort."
Furthermore, NMPF claimed that FDA is not enforcing current regulations pertaining to the identity of foods, including imitation dairy products.
"The agency has blatantly disregarded the names displayed on the labels of imitation dairy products (e.g., 'soy milk,' 'rice yogurt,' etc.) in the current marketplace," Briczinski wrote. "While the FDA has made its position clear through warning letters to several manufacturers, NMPF would argue that these actions have been too infrequent to be effective, essentially creating a labeling landscape free of enforcement."
Although NMPF has sent a series of correspondence to FDA in regard to the labeling matter, the agency has only sent notices to manufacturers; the terms still presently appear on food labels.