Are soy, almond and hemp milks confusing to consumers?
A new federal law could stop non-dairy producers from labeling their creamy liquids as “milk.”
Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who introduced the legislation on Jan. 12, said that using words like “milk” to label foods that are actually plant-based should be considered mislabeled under the current definition of the product according to the Food and Drug Administration.
“Imitation products have gotten away with using dairy’s good name for their own benefit,” the senator said in a written statement.
The proposed legislation would require the FDA to enforce current standards and prevent plant-based products from using dairy terms such as “milk,” “yogurt” or “cheese."
Vegan milk producers, however, don’t agree with the legislation and argue that the wording is key in helping consumers understand what their products are and how they can be used.
“If a company is making a product that tastes like yogurt, feels like yogurt, happens to be made from almonds, why shouldn't that company be able to use the word 'yogurt?',” Michele Simon, the executive director of the Plant Based Foods Association, said to Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR).
“That company wants to send a message to a consumer that that consumer is going to get a similar experience to yogurt without the dairy.”
But dairy industry groups say the labeling of plant-based products as milk implies that they have the same nutritional value as milk that comes from cows and animals when they may not.
"Non-dairy cheese or vegan cheese, or just the label shows that it's cheese and the company's name, people might buy that and think they're getting something that is the nutritional equivalent of cheese made from cow's milk; and the reality is they're not," said John Holevoet, director of government affairs for the Dairy Business Milk Marketing Cooperative group.
Holevoet continued, "It does hurt farmers, and it does hurt our processors as well."
It’s not the first time lawmakers have tried to referee this battle. Last December, a group of Wisconsin lawmakers sent a letter to the FDA urging the agency to "take appropriate action against the manufacturers of these mislabeled products."