Senators Dan Coats, Richard Lugar and Kristen Gillibrand called on the FDA to enforce its Standards of Identity regulations in a letter addressed to FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg.
Standards of identity, which are outlined in the Code of Federation Regulations, are legal standards which define a food’s minimum quality specification including permitted ingredients and processing requirements.
According to the letter, it has become increasingly common to find products on the market that use the names of standardised dairy products such as milk, despite not meeting specific requirements.
The US National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) has given its backing to the senator-led campaign, pinpointed soy milk as the biggest violator of the FDA dairy standards.
The senators expressed concerns that “these misleading labels will become even more prevalent and further erode the meaning of these dairy terms.”
“We are writing to express our concerns regarding the haphazard enforcement efforts of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prevent the misbranding of certain food items that are imitations of standardised dairy products,” said the letter.
“Federal standards of identity are established to promote honesty and fair dealing in the interest of consumers. Dairy product standards contain provisions regarding both permitted and prohibited ingredients, as well as proper manufacturing procedures to protect product identity.”
In the US, standards of identity have been established for milk, cream, sour cream, yogurt, ice cream and some types of cheeses.
However, products such as soy milk have continued to be manufactured in violation of the FDA regulations.
“It is clear from scattered enforcement actions that the FDA understands these terms should not be used in such a manner for imitation dairy products. However, given the increasing prevalence of mislabeled imitation dairy products, FDA enforcement has not been sufficient,” added the letter.
While the senators accept that consumers may choose these “imitation” dairy products for a variety of reason, it is “inappropriate for manufacturers of these products to violate the law and continue to mislead consumers by capitalising on dairy terminology for standardised foods.”
“Imitation dairy products should be allowed on the market only when accurately labeled.”
Soy milk – worst offender
“The letter is very consistent with the letters we have previously sent to the Congress and the FDA,” said NMPF spokesperson Chris Galen referring to the organisations 12 year campaign against standardised dairy product imitation.
“Our initial concern was that we were seeing a number of products in supermarkets using the term soy milk, which is not permitted in the US.”
Almond, rice and hemp products labelled as ‘milk’ have since become prevalent, he added.
“It started with soy, and now it encompasses a much wider spectrum of products.”
“If it’s not going to be enforced then what’s the point?” added Galen.