March 9, 2023
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued draft guidance that would allow plant-based beverages to use the word “milk” in their names but recommends that they disclose nutrients where they fall short of amounts found in real milk. Under this guidance, which is open for comment until April 24, beverages like almond milk could not be called “milk” without a qualifier, but they could be called “almond milk” despite the legal standard of identity that defines milk as being sourced from cows or other mammals. Due to consumer confusion over plant-based products’ nutrient content, FDA recommends a front-of-pack statement like: “Contains lower amounts of [nutrient name(s)] than milk.”
The National Milk Producers Federation criticized FDA for allowing plant-based products to use “milk,” but praised the agency for “acknowledging both the utter lack of nutritional standards prevalent in plant-based beverages and the confusion over nutritional value…” By contrast, some plant-based food interests are reportedly upset about the nutrition labeling recommendation, which, though voluntary, might be widely adopted if finalized (pressure to do so would likely come from both customers and retail consumers).
The guidance applies only to milk, but FDA has announced it will develop another document entitled “Labeling of Plant-Based Alternatives to Animal-Derived Foods; Draft Guidance for Industry.” If the agency uses the same principles within this document, imitation eggs would be encouraged to disclose how their nutrient content differs from real eggs. For example, many imitation egg products have high sodium levels, in contrast to eggs.
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