By Jessie Cameron
What’s milk? The Food and Drug Administration will soon decide – an option that dairy groups are excited about.
In July, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the agency will look at how the current “standard of identity” for milk is being interpreted. The FDA has hundreds of standards in place, which define what a product must contain to carry a specific label. The goal, the FDA said, is to define how products have to be made.
For example, the FDA may rule that for a beverage to call itself “milk,” it must conform to certain requirements related to origin. Gottlieb said at the Politico Pro Summit that “there is a reference somewhere in the standard of identity (for milk) to a lactating animal, and you know, an almond does not lactate.”
Gottlieb admitted the FDA has not always enforced the milk label issue and pledged it will do so going forward once the requirements are reviewed. The FDA estimated it will be at least a year before a decision is made.
Farmer groups, as well as Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., have been pushing the FDA to do a better job of enforcing what can be called milk and what can’t.
Last year, Baldwin introduced the Dairy Pride Act in the Senate that would ban the use of the word “milk” in non-dairy beverages.
Two Wisconsin-based dairy organizations – Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, which represents farmers in eight states, and the Dairy Business Association – said the decision to look at how milk is defined is overdue.
“FDA regulations define milk as coming from a cow, not a plant. It is encouraging to hear Commissioner Gottlieb state his commitment to enforcing the laws already on the books,” the groups said in a statement.
“Our dairy farmers and processors work hard to produce incredible food. Milk and dairy products offer almost unbeatable nutritional value.”
The American Dairy Coalition’s Laurie Fischer said sales of soy and almond milk have things tougher for the already struggling dairy industry.
“The dairy industry is taking a stand and saying ‘milk is milk.’ And we want to make sure that consumers understand what it is,” she said.
Gottlieb said there could be health consequences if consumers are confused by nondairy milk labels, adding he heard of a case where a toddler got rickets after drinking only soy milk, which does not contain bone-building vitamin D.
It is common for people to not understand the difference between what’s in dairy milk vs. plant-based beverages. For example, most plant-based beverages have zero to 1 gram of protein per cup while dairy milk has 8 grams of protein. Nondairy beverages also typically have extra sugar added during the manufacturing process.