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Not Milk? Dairy Industry Wants Plant-Based Alternatives to Stop Using Name

The National Milk Producers Federation has put its support behind a legislative effort to prevent the use of the term "milk" for alternatives made with different kinds of plants. A group that represents plant-based food makers, meanwhile, has defended its members, stating that the goal has never been to mislead.

Dig your milk in almond, soy, or rice form? The dairy industry has a problem with you calling those substances “milk.”

Recently, 32 members of Congress called on the Food and Drug Administration to more strictly follow its own policy on the definition of milk. Since then, bills have been pushed forth in both the House and Senate that would require the FDA to more strictly enforce the definitions of what constitutes a dairy product—such as milk, yogurt, or cheese.

“Plant-based products labeled as milk are misleading to consumers,” the Senate version of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), states.

The National Milk Producers Federation has strongly come out in support of this approach, with the federation’s president and CEO, Jim Mulhern, making his group’s case for the DAIRY PRIDE Act, in an op-ed for The Hill.

“We welcome competition from plant-based imitators,” Mulhern wrote in his essay. “What we object to is when these faux food marketers co-opt the universally recognized name, reputation, and image of milk, but don’t offer the same natural, unprocessed goodness of what they are mimicking.”

Sticking Up for Plants

The plant-based providers of such foods aren’t taking this skepticism around their offerings lying down.

In a recent New York Times piece about the legislative effort, the Plant Based Foods Association’s (PBFA) executive director, Michele Simon, emphasized that her group and its members were not interested in misleading consumers, but offering an alternative.

“There’s no cow on any of these containers of almond milk or soy milk,” Simon told the Times. “No one is trying to fool consumers. All they’re trying to do is create a better alternative for people who are looking for that option.”

Earlier this month, PBFA reached out to both the FDA and members of Congress, emphasizing that its offerings are not misleading to consumers.

“We reject these attacks by the dairy industry and look forward to a more constructive conversation that ensures consumers are able to access the delicious plant-based options they desire,” Simon said in the letters.

PBFA is relatively new to the advocacy game, having launched just last year.

Fodder for Advertising

One manufacturer of a plant-based dairy milk has leveraged the attention the issue is getting with an ad campaign.

The pea-based milk maker Ripple Foods is currently running an interactive ad campaign titled “What Milk Should Be,” which takes aim at both traditional dairy and its other plant-based competitors.

In comments to Fortune, Ripple CEO Adam Lowry pointed out that the language of the bill could help make the case for his target audience.

“‘Lacteal secretions of hooved animals?’ Ew. What better way to highlight that humans are the only species on the planet that drinks another lactating species’ milk,” Lowry told the magazine.

(iStock/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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