NMPF says FDA’s draft guidance not enough to prevent misleading labeling

Guidance is encouraging step but falls short of ending misleading plant-based labeling.

Krissa Welshans, Livestock Editor

July 31, 2023

2 Min Read
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While the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) draft guidance on plant-based beverages acknowledges the public health concern regarding nutritional confusion, it falls woefully short of ending the decades-old problem of misleading plant-based labeling using dairy terminology, the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) said in comments submitted to the agency this week.

NMPF emphasized the importance of transparent product labeling to ensure consumer understanding and informed purchasing decisions, and urged FDA to take prompt enforcement action against misbranded non-dairy beverages that resemble milk.

"For far too long, plant-based beverage manufacturers have blurred well-defined standards of identity to inappropriately and unfairly capitalize on dairy’s nutritional benefits while FDA has ignored its enforcement obligations,” said Jim Mulhern, NMPF president and CEO. “FDA’s draft guidance is an encouraging first step toward promoting labeling transparency in the marketplace, but it’s not enough. Our comments outline a solution to the misleading labeling practices existing in the marketplace today, and provide clear, truthful labeling options for marketers of plant-based beverages.”

To be clear, NMPF said it has never asked for an outright ban on the use of dairy terminology on imitation, substitute, or alternative plant-based foods, as that would be impermissible under the First Amendment. Instead, it said it has consistently asked for everyone to follow the rules and provide transparency and fair factual disclosure to consumers.

“Current regulations have long permitted the use of the name of a food being imitated, such as ‘Imitation Vanilla Extract’ or ‘Imitation Crab Meat.’ It can and has been done for decades,” the group asserted.

NMPF commended FDA for its acknowledgement of consumer confusion over the nutritional content of dairy imitators. “For decades, NMPF has been frustrated with FDA’s unwillingness to enforce its own standards of identity for milk and milk products which continues today. We are encouraged by the agency’s acceptance of the reality of consumer confusion regarding nutritional content,” NMPF wrote.

Still, NMPF cautioned FDA to adhere to the law by going through the proper legal process.

Because of the voluntary nature of the proposed guidance and FDA’s undependable labeling enforcement history, NMPF said it will continue its work in Congress to pass the bipartisan, bicameral DAIRY PRIDE Act, which would direct FDA to enforce its own rules and clarify that dairy terms are for true dairy products.

About the Author(s)

Krissa Welshans

Livestock Editor

Krissa Welshans grew up on a crop farm and cow-calf operation in Marlette, Michigan. Welshans earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Michigan State University and master’s degree in public policy from New England College. She and her husband Brock run a show cattle operation in Henrietta, Texas, where they reside with their son, Wynn.

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