In response to pressure from the dairy industry to outlaw the use of terms such as “milk” and “ice cream” by plant-based producers, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is seeking public comment. We need to speak up and submit comments by January 28 to be counted.

Agribusiness is falsely asserting that labels such as “almond milk” and “soy yogurt” are confusing, and that consumers don’t realize they are buying plant-based products. But descriptive labels like “soy milk” are very clear, and consumers are not confused.

In fact, we feel that if FDA really wants transparent and truthful labels, it should require all milks to be accurately labeled, including cows’ milk, which should be labeled as “cows’ milk.” A recent Zogby poll shows that 82 percent of U.S. adults agree.

Here are three ways you can stand up to Big Dairy and protect plant-based companies:

  1. Submit your comment to the FDA. Please take 30 seconds do so immediately using this simple form.
  2. Join the #WeCanRead Movement. Take a selfie with your favorite plant-based milk, cheese, or yogurt. Post to Instagram and include the hashtag #WeCanRead. Tag @advancinglawforanimals, @farmsanctuary, and your favorite plant-based milk companies! More info.
  3. Get Informed. Farm Sanctuary has submitted an official public comment to the FDA and you can read the full text below. Armed with credible research, you will be an effective advocate for change.

Farm Sanctuary’s Full Comments to the FDA

January 24, 2019

SUBMITTED ONLINE
https://www.regulations.gov

Commissioner Scott Gottlieb Food and Drug Administration
5630 Fishers Lane, Rm. 1061
Rockville, Maryland 20852

Re: Use of the Names of Dairy Foods in the Labeling of Plant-Based Products; Docket ID: FDA-2018-N-3522

Dear Commissioner Gottlieb:

Thank you for soliciting public input about the labeling of plant based milks and similar nondairy products. This is a timely matter and represents an expanding segment of the market. We are submitting these comments on behalf of Farm Sanctuary and our more than 500,000 members and constituents in the United States. Farm Sanctuary was founded in 1986 to combat the abuses of animal agriculture and to promote healthy and compassionate vegan lifestyles. Our supporters commonly seek out and purchase plant based foods, including alternatives to dairy products. We believe that, in accordance with the First Amendment, makers of these plant based alternatives should be permitted to continue labeling their products in a clear and truthful manner, using everyday “dairy” terminology that consumers understand.

With growing societal concerns about the myriad problems of factory farming and animal agriculture, there has been significant growth in the demand for plant based foods. Consumers are seeking more ethical and sustainable food choices, and this is creating new business and economic opportunities. Entrepreneurs are launching plant based companies and developing innovative products to meet demand, while established brands and multinational corporations are also investing in the space. Hundreds of products are currently on the market to replace meat, milk and eggs from exploited animals, and new ones are on the way.

Plant based milks, yogurts, butters, cheeses, creams and other nondairy products are widely available in mainstream grocery stores, and consumers often use them in similar ways to their dairy counterparts. For example, one might put almond milk on cereal, substitute cashew cheese in a macaroni and cheese recipe, or spread vegan butter on bread. The use of everyday “dairy” terminology to describe these plant based products helps signal to consumers that a given product may have a similar taste or texture to a familiar dairy product and may therefore serve as a suitable alternative that better fits the consumer’s ethical, environmental, or health concerns.

Plant based products are commonly described with terms like “vegan,” “dairy-free,” or “nondairy,” and in many cases product names even include the specific plant the product is derived from, as in the case of “soymilk” or “almond milk.” These foods are labeled clearly and accurately, and consumers are not confused:

  • A survey of 1,000 U.S. adults conducted by Lincoln Park Strategies and supported by Danone North America PBC found that fewer than one in ten respondents believed that branded versions of soy milk, almond milk, cashew milk, and rice milk contained milk from cows. The authors reported that “…a significant majority of people understand correctly which products contain and which do not contain milk from cows when shopping for various types of products labeled using the word ‘milk’.”
  • Researchers at UCLA also found that consumers were able to correctly identify the source of plant-based milk products: study participants correctly identified the source of plant-based milk products 88% of the time, while they correctly identified the source of animal-based milk products 84% of the time.
  • A federal appeals court recently affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit alleging that Blue Diamond almond milk was mislabeled. The judge stated that the lower court had “correctly concluded that ‘[no] reasonable consumer could be misled by [Blue Diamond’s] unambiguous labeling or factually accurate nutritional statements.’”1

More people are seeking alternatives to cows’ milk, and businesses selling these foods want consumers to know that their products do not contain bovine mammary secretions. Companies are marketing and labeling dairy free alternatives truthfully and accurately, in accordance with their First Amendment rights, and people are knowingly choosing them. Both consumers and businesses are served well, as is the marketplace, by existing labeling practices, and we urge the FDA to refrain from making any changes in its current enforcement policy with regard to plant based products. Any change to prohibit the use of commonly understood dairy terminology in connection with plant based products would come at a great cost to the plant based dairy industry, and would provide no benefit to consumers.

More people are seeking alternatives to cows’ milk, and businesses selling these foods want consumers to know that their products do not contain bovine mammary secretions. Companies are marketing and labeling dairy free alternatives truthfully and accurately, in accordance with their First Amendment rights, and people are knowingly choosing them. Both consumers and businesses are served well, as is the marketplace, by existing labeling practices, and we urge the FDA to refrain from making any changes in its current enforcement policy with regard to plant based products. Any change to prohibit the use of commonly understood dairy terminology in connection with plant based products would come at a great cost to the plant based dairy industry, and would provide no benefit to consumers.

Along with a wide range of nondairy milks, there are also several animal based milks on the market. We believe all of these products should be labeled accurately and descriptively, whether from plants or animals. Just as milk made with almonds should be labeled as “almond milk,” milk from goats should be labeled as “goats’ milk,” and milk from cows should be required to be labeled as “cows’ milk.” A new poll of 1015 U.S. adults conducted by Zogby Analytics between January 18 and January 20, 2019 found 82% believe that the source of cows’ milk should be disclosed on labels, like the sources of other milks, including almond or soy. According to Zogby, “Many more adults these days are health conscious, and care about how their food is being sourced. It’s not surprising more than four in five adults support cow’s milk being required to label the source of its milk, if soy and almond milk are required to.”2 We urge the FDA to consider these findings in its deliberations.

The marketplace is functioning well under the current regulatory system with regard to plant based, dairy free foods, and if any change is contemplated by FDA, it should focus on more accurate and descriptive labeling of animal based milks and other foods.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide these comments, and thank you for your thoughtful consideration.

Sincerely,

Gene Baur, President & Co-Founder, Farm Sanctuary
Emily von Klemperer, General Counsel, Farm Sanctuary


1 Painter v. Blue Diamond Growers, D.C. No. 2:17-cv-02235-SVW-AJW, (9th Cir. Dec. 20, 2018).

2 Zogby Analytics, Nationwide Poll on Milk Labels, January 18-20, 2019; commissioned by Farm Sanctuary, available on request.