Vox Pop: Should the term 'milk' be regulated?

By Mary Ellen Shoup contact

- Last updated on GMT

DairyReporter set out to see what consumers thought about regulation of the term “milk” and found out that while the market for plant-based beverages is certainly growing, cow’s milk still factors into most people’s diets.

The market for plant-based milks has experienced sales growth of nearly 250% since 2012, where traditional dairy milk has shrunk by over than $1bn in the same time period, according to Nielsen data. Almond milk still sits at about 5% of dairy milk’s overall sales, however the dairy industry wants to put a halt to the milk alternatives soaring growth with its latest move to prohibit the use of the word “milk”​ on plant-based fluid products.

almond milk sales

The Dairy Pride Act was introduced to Congress in January this year, and is seeking to regulate the use of the word “milk”​ to only include dairy coming from cows. If successful, companies producing plant-based milks such as almond, cashew, hemp, and rice milks would have to stop using the word “milk”​ on their products.

“Dairy farmers in Wisconsin work tirelessly every day to ensure that their milk meets high standards for nutritional value and quality,”​ Senator Tammy Baldwin, who introduced the Dairy Pride Act, said in a press release.

“Imitation products have gotten away with using dairy’s good name for their own benefit, which is against the law and must be enforced.”

The bill is using the FDA’s definition of milk which states that “milk is the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows.” ​The bill has updated the FDA’s definition to include all “hooved animals.”

Non-dairy argues milk as common term

Those on the side of the plant-based milks are arguing that consumers can tell the difference between dairy and non-dairy milk and earlier this month the Plant-Based Foods Association that this issue had already been settled in court in 2015 when Trader Joe’s was cleared to keep labeling its soymilk as “milk.”

“To us, this attempt to legislate the word ‘milk’ as dairy-only comes a little late, and doesn’t make sense considering plant-based milks have been around not only for several years but for centuries,”​ Molly Spence, the director of Almond Board of California in North America, said.

“The variety of milks on the market today simply comes down to consumers having more choice.”

WhiteWave, the maker of Silk soy milk, also responded to the debate in a statement that said: “We are confident that consumers understand the difference between dairy milk and plant-based alternatives.”

The Soybean Association wrote to the FDA and said: “This legislation is unnecessary as no confusion in the market exists. Consumers of soymilk clearly understand that the product is derived from soybeans rather than bovine milk, and a large percentage consume it for just that reason due to dietary choices or restrictions.”

Milk resonates as nutritious with consumers

Supporters of the bill say that regulation of the term “milk”​ should be enforced in order to reduce consumer confusion and that plant-based milk companies are taking advantage of the milk’s wholesome reputation.

DairyReporter found that many agree that when they see or hear the word milk has a health connotation with one participant saying that she viewed milk as “homier.”

Every person that was interviewed said that they would think differently of a product if it was labeled “almond beverage”​ instead of “almond milk” ​and would be less likely to purchase it.

Related topics: Regulation & Safety

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2 comments

Milk Powders with non dairy fillers

Posted by Henry T,

While in your location people are shying away from dairy milk in favor of milk substitute, in our part of the world "milk" is very loosely classified. Imagine a product labelled as Skim Milk Powder for institutional use can contain as much as 80-90% maltodextrin or other starches as fillers?

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Milk is from mammals

Posted by Mary,

to feed young mammals. Only animal milk should be called 'milk'. Plant based products should have their own names, such as 'Oatley'

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