Food News

Soy, oat and almond drinks can be called milk, FDA says

Most consumers, the agency noted in its draft proposal, are aware that liquid extracts from plants have no relationship to the udder of a cow.

The dairy-free milk section in a Wholefoods grocery store at Columbus Circle, New York, on Oct. 17, 2018. An Rong Xu/The New York Times

Oat, soy and almond drinks can keep the word milk in their names, the Food and Drug Administration proposed this week, in an effort to end a long-running battle between the powerful dairy industry and the plant-based upstarts that have been changing the way Americans consume cereal and flavor their coffee.

Most consumers, the agency noted in its draft proposal, are aware that liquid extracts from plants have no relationship to the udder of a cow.

But in a concession to the nation’s traditional milk producers, the FDA also recommended that the packaging for plant-based drinks make clear the key nutritional differences between their products and cow’s milk. If a carton of rice milk contains less vitamin D or calcium than dairy milk does, for example, the label should provide that information to consumers, the agency said.


Although the new labeling recommendations are described as voluntary, industry experts predicted that most companies would comply. The agency plans to issue a final decision after another period of public comment.

“Today’s draft guidance was developed to help address the significant increase in plant-based milk alternative products that we have seen become available in the marketplace over the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

The FDA’s guidance had been eagerly anticipated by dairy producers and the expansive plant-based food sector, which have been at loggerheads over whether the word “milk” on products that are derived from nuts and grains confuses consumers. The debate, which was kicked off four decades ago by the introduction of soy-based beverages, has taken on greater urgency amid a seismic shift in dietary habits. Products such as oat milk continue to enjoy robust growth, while milk consumption has been on a downward trajectory for decades.

The growing embrace of beverages made from cashews, quinoa or flaxseed has been fueled in part by health concerns; some people buy them because they are lactose intolerant. And an increasing number of Americans cite either the desire for a vegan diet or dairy production’s contribution to climate change through the manure and methane produced by cows.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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