February 26, 2020
More than one year after comments closed on the Food & Drug Administration’s request for information on non-dairy beverage labeling, the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) is reiterating its roadmap that updates dairy labeling rules, clarifies marketplace practices and ensures fair competition among dairy and plant-based products.
Written as a citizen petition responding to the comments FDA solicited, the map is NMPF’s proposed solution to the “fake dairy labeling” problem.
For example, the petition would clarify that milk from animals other than cows, such as sheep, goats and water buffalos, are acceptable for dairy labeling because milk comes only from mammals.
It also explains why terms like “peanut butter” and “milk of magnesia” are compatible with current FDA rules, while calling an almond-based beverage “milk” is not compatible. NMPF explained that it has to do with a product’s established use; these products aren’t marketed as substitutes for dairy.
It even reaffirms circumstances under which plant-based products could still use dairy terms, and it does not ban those dairy terms if used in a way that fits with decades-old federal regulations that are consistent with the First Amendment. Words such as “alternative,” “imitation” and “substitute,” when properly administered, can give consumers the information they need and maintain nutrition and labeling integrity while allowing plant-based purveyors the leeway to market their heavily processed, flavored sugar waters largely how they’d like, NMPF said.
The NMPF petition notes that any manufacturer not wishing to use modifiers such as “imitation,” “substitute” or “alternative” may simply eschew the use of dairy terms altogether – an approach that’s already common in the rest of the world and practiced by some companies in the U.S., including Chobani, Trader Joe’s and Quaker.
Finally, the roadmap contains a detailed analysis of relevant case law to address First Amendment concerns over labeling terms. It surveys the legal landscape to ensure that solutions on disclosure requirements are narrowly tailored to improving labeling transparency and promoting informed consumer choice. It emphatically does not propose a blanket ban on the use of dairy terms by plant-based products.
“Dairy farmers understand the FDA has a lot on its plate,” NMPF said. “The path is clear; the roadmap exists. All that’s left is action – by FDA, Congress or both – to do what’s right for consumers. We won’t be quiet until it’s done.”
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