Producers of soy and almond beverages that qualify as “soy milk” or “almond milk” may have to consider an alternative name in the United States after the head of a federal regulatory agency said they are considering strictly implementing the official definition of the term. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it would begin implementing a federal rule that only “that product that comes milked from one or more healthy cows” can be called “milk.”
So far, however, the agency has not taken any action against the proliferation of products that are called “milk,” but that doesn’t come from animals. Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said this week that the FDA must first inform manufacturers of its plans to enforce that rule, which he said will begin within a year. Gottlieb noted that there are hundreds of “federal standards of identity” that detail how food under different names is to be produced.
“The question is, have we been implementing our own standards of identity?” Gottlieb said of “milk” at a political magazine event on Tuesday. “The answer is probably no,” he added.
The FDA to rethink if “soy milk” and other “plant-based dairy imitations” should be called “milk”
Standards of identity have been the source of disputes in the industry as dietary habits in the United States have changed, including debates over what can be called mayonnaise and yogurt, for example.
The FDA cannot change the way it enforces a standard without warning, Gottlieb said. Because it plans to take a different approach, says Gottlieb, the agency has to develop guidelines for notifying companies of the change and asking for public comment. That directive will probably be issued this year, he said.
Dairy farmers have long demanded this rule to be enforced. The National Federation of Milk Producers said it welcomes Gottlieb’s recognition that the labeling practices of many “soy milk,” “almond milk,” and other “plant-based dairy imitations” violate federal standards.
The Good Food Institute, a group that advocates the use of herbal products, argues, however, that the word “milk” should be allowed for non-dairy products provided there is an explanatory term.