Consumers associate dairy foods with specific positive nutritional characteristics, and those qualities do not necessarily carry over to nut- or plant-based products labeled as “milk,” “yogurt” or “cheese,” the American Farm Bureau Federation told federal regulators this week.
In formal comments to the Food and Drug Administration, AFBF said the mislabeling of nut- and plant-based beverages as “milk” confuses consumers from a nutritional equivalency standpoint. The FDA expects to issue a rule on the use of the names of dairy foods in the labeling of plant-based products later this year.
AFBF told regulators that consumers know the nutritional value of products labeled “milk,” and likely infer that any product bearing this term possesses the same, or at least an equivalent, nutritional profile. However, this is not the case. For example, one serving of traditional milk contains 8 grams of protein while many plant- and nut-based beverages have a lower protein content.
A recent survey conducted by IPSOS and commissioned by Dairy Management Inc. found that 53 percent of respondents stated they believed plant-based food manufacturers label their products “milk” because their nutritional value is similar – although it is not.
While AFBF stated that it “wholeheartedly supports a consumer’s right to access dairy-free products from an allergy, intolerance, or personal dietary preference perspective,” consumers often “rely on product indicators, such as the name on a product’s labeling, rather than technical information on the back of a label.
“This can create confusion when consumers are in the grocery store deciding to purchase milk or a non-dairy substitute,” Farm Bureau said. “Nut- and plant-based beverages are marketed as milk, and sold in the milk case, right alongside traditional milk.”
AFBF reminded officials that FDA already has rules and a clear process for handling this issue: If the modified food is nutritionally inferior, as is most often the case in plant- and nut-based beverages, it must bear the word “imitation.” Even if the food is not nutritionally inferior, it must bear either the words “substitute,” “alternative” or another appropriate term.