FDA says plant-based milks can continue being called milk, despite dairy farmers' protests

The Farm Bureau argues using the terms "milk" and "cheese" can confuse consumers about the product's nutritional value.

Updated: February 23, 2023 - 7:50am

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Soy, almond and oat-based drinks that use the word "milk" on packaging may continue to do so, according to Food and Drug Administration guidance, which was over the protests of dairy farmers. 

In an FDA focus group, most participants did not confuse cow milk with plant-based alternatives, and they still referred to the plant-based drinks as "milk," the agency said in a federal rule draft issued Wednesday. The agency still said the term "plant-based milk" alone should not be used to describe milk and the type of plant used to make the beverage should be clearly stated to distinguish it from other milk alternatives. 

The American Farm Bureau Federation, an agricultural lobbying group, asked the FDA in 2019 to "take immediate action on the mislabeling of imitation dairy products" because using the terms "milk" and "cheese" could confuse consumers about the product's nutritional value.

The government's new draft rules also state that extra nutrition labels should be placed on the plant-based drinks when they have lower nutrient levels than dairy milk, such as vitamin D or calcium. Plant-based milk that has higher nutritional levels than traditional milk will still be allowed to state this on labels.