On Wednesday, February 22, 2023, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced draft recommendations that plant-based alternatives can continue to use the word 'milk' in their labeling.
As per the draft federal rules, the industry can continue using the word in the labeling of multiple variants of plant-based milk that come from almonds, macadamia, oats, soy, and more. However, the source of the milk has to be clearly labeled on products such as 'oat milk,' 'soy milk,' and more.
The move comes in response to years of demand from the dairy industry seeking a crackdown on plant-based drinks that are sold as milk. The dairy industry seems to believe that plant-based drinks masquerade as animal-based foods and cloud the real meaning of 'milk.' However, draft federal rules issued by the Food and Drug Administration officials state that plant-based drinks don't pretend to be sourced from animals, and customers are not confused about the difference between the two.
The FDA shared the draft recommendations with U.S. citizens through a press release, with Commissioner Robert M. Califf, M.D., stating:
“Today’s draft guidance was developed to help address the significant increase in plant-based milk alternative products that we have seen become available in the marketplace over the past decade.”
Briefing people about the goals of the draft recommendations, the FDA Commissioner further added:
“The draft recommendations issued today should lead to providing consumers with clear labeling to give them the information they need to make informed nutrition and purchasing decisions on the products they buy for themselves and their families.”
FDA's draft labeling recommendations for plant-based milk alternatives include a voluntary nutrient statement on the product packaging
Over the last few years, the surge in consumption of alternative milk and its products has been on a significant rise. The increase in demand has not only led to the introduction of new players in the market but has also resulted in the creation of new alternative milk sources.
Currently, customers have access to a wide range of milk alternatives that include plant-based options like almonds, oats, soy, coconut, hemp, rice, quinoa, peas, and other varieties of nuts. While plant-based milk may be considered relatively safer for people with certain medical conditions, such as lactose intolerance, the alternatives often have a lower nutritional value than milk sourced from dairy animals.
To ensure that consumers can easily understand the difference and make the right choice, the FDA draft guidance recommends that the plant-based milk industry include a voluntary nutrient statement on the product packaging that conveys how the product compares with milk. In simple terms, the products can convey the difference between plant-based milk and milk sourced from dairy through statements like “Contains lower amounts of Vitamin D and calcium than milk,” etc.
The Food and Drug Administration hopes that clear labeling will give consumers the information and understanding they need to make nutritious purchase decisions for themselves and their families. Moreover, the FDA is currently taking comments from consumers on the guidance.