At a recent Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, there was much talk about the labeling regulations related to imitation dairy products. The comments come after several lawsuits over the years related to the labeling of plant products using terms most commonly associated with dairy.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb addressed the committee on April 24 stating the agency would be “taking a very close and fresh look” at what products using dairy-specific terms will be allowed to label the items as such. Federal standards currently define milk as a product that is sourced from animals.
Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) expressed concern regarding enforcement of the federal standards of identity. “I am really concerned about the proliferation of mislabeled products in the marketplace that are using dairy’s good name but have absolutely no dairy ingredients. These products are violating the Food and Drug Administration’s existing regulations and they are getting away with it because of inaction by the agency. It’s a matter of fairness to the farmers and dairy producers and processors,” Baldwin stated. Baldwin had recently introduced the Dairy Pride Act in 2017 which would prohibit dairy terms from being used for plant-based products, establishing a timeline for FDA to take enforcement action.
“You mentioned this is an issue of fairness, I wouldn’t dispute that, but it’s also a question of public health from our standpoint and if consumers are being confused or mislead about the nutritional status or quality of milk because of the way certain products are being labeled, that’s something we would want to take a look at,” Gottlieb responded.
There have traditionally been varying degrees of enforcement when it comes to non-dairy products with labels containing the word ‘milk.’ False advertising claims have not been historically successful against imitation dairy products and their labeling. The dairy industry remains hopeful that the FDA will follow through with the plans laid out in its strategic roadmap issued in January which stated the agency will be “modernizing certain standards of identity to address current barriers to the development of healthier products while making sure consumers have accurate information about the foods they eat.”