Freshman lawmakers weigh in on labeling: “Milk” comes from cows
The issue of milk labeling appears to be gaining attention from lawmakers. A bipartisan group of freshman members of Congress recently sent a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to support the use of “milk” only on labels describing animal products.
This letter comes as the FDA is assessing rules for labeling “milk,” “cheese” and “yogurt.” The current rule is that these terms should only describe animal products. Specifically, milk is defined as a product coming from the “milking of one or more healthy cows.” Yet many companies continue to use the terms to describe products like almond milk, soy milk and coconut milk.
“We urge you to make crystal clear that dairy imitators will not be considered in compliance with standards of identity if they merely add the name of a plant material in front of a standardized dairy term or otherwise reference dairy terms,” the lawmakers wrote. “Modifying the word 'milk' with a plant product descriptor does not make the label accurate or appropriate.”
The letter was authored by Reps. Anthony Brindisi (D., N.Y.) and John Joyce (R., Pa.), along with Reps. Anthony Delgado (D., N.Y.), Daniel Meuser (R., Pa.), Angie Craig (D., Minn.), Dusty Johnson (R., S.D.), Ben Cline (R., Va.,), Jim Hagedorn (R., Minn.), Russ Fulcher (R., Ida.) and Anthony Gonzalez (R., Ohio).
In response to the letter, Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) wrote, “We welcome this new wave of support from incoming lawmakers of both parties...This letter adds to already broad support for uniform labeling regulations that will bring clarity for businesses and consumers.”
This was not the first time lawmakers have weighed in on the issue. In October, 48 members of Congress signed a bipartisan call for proper milk labeling. For many, the issue comes down to helping consumers make informed decisions. A recent survey funded by the NMPF showed that mislabeling products leads many to believe plant-based beverages have more protein than they really do. A follow-up survey showed that 63 percent of American consumers believe “milk” should not be used in labeling plant products.
To guide their assessment, the FDA asked for public comments last year, with the comment period ending Jan. 28, 2019. According to the FDA, the plan is to use these comments over the next year to help “clarify FDA’s thinking regarding the labeling of plant-based products with names that include the names of dairy foods while giving manufacturers adequate notice about any changes.”