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FDA releases guidance for plant-based milk-alternative beverage labeling 

By: Sydney Sheffield 

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released a set of guidelines for plant-based milk-alternative beverage labeling. The guidance also includes recommendations on the use of voluntary nutrient statements. According to the FDA, the use of these voluntary nutrient statements would provide consumers with additional nutrition information to help them understand certain nutritional differences between these products and milk and make informed dietary choices. 

The move comes in response to an FDA request for additional information on the labeling of plant-based milk alternatives. According to an agency release, more than 13,000 comments were submitted on the issue. The FDA ultimately concluded that most consumers understand that plant-based milk alternatives do not contain milk. However, they may not understand how the nutritional composition of these products varies and may not contain the same levels of key nutrients as milk.

The FDA is recommending nutrient disclosure statements on the labels of plant-based milk alternatives that contain less of the following nutrients compared to milk:

  • Calcium
  • Protein
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin D
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Riboflavin
  • Vitamin B12

“Today’s draft guidance was developed to help address the significant increase in plant-based milk alternative products that we have seen become available in the marketplace over the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,” said FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, M.D. “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.”

Understandably, those in the dairy industry are not satisfied with the FDA’s recommendations to refer to plant-based alternatives as “milk.” Pat Daninger, the owner of Autumnwood Farm, said “They’re not milk. Milk comes from a lactating animal. Almonds don’t lactate. Soybeans don’t lactate, so they’re plant-based beverages. When you purchase something, you should know what it is by what it says on the label.”  

On the other hand, some are happy that the FDA is taking steps to acknowledge that plant-based milk alternatives and real milk differ nutritionally. Jim Mulhern, President, and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) said, “Today’s FDA announcement is a step toward labeling integrity for consumers of dairy products, even as it falls short of ending the decades-old problem of misleading plant-based labeling using dairy terminology. By acknowledging both the utter lack of nutritional standards prevalent in plant-based beverages and the confusion over nutritional value that’s prevailed in the marketplace because of the unlawful use of dairy terms, FDA’s proposed guidance today will provide greater transparency that’s sorely needed for consumers to make informed choices.” 

The FDA’s guidance has led to the re-introduction of the DAIRY PRIDE Act. For more information on the bill, check out the DAIRY PRIDE Act of 2023 is introduced in Taking Stock D.C. 

Comments on the draft guidance are due on April 24, 2023. Submit comments and read the guidance here.