Survey: Consumers want 'milk' rules enforced

A new survey done for the dairy industry shows most consumers want the Food and Drug Administration in enforce its rules on the use of dairy names for plant-based products.

A consumer study released by the National Milk Producers Foundation found that the majority of adults surveyed believe alternative milk products are nutritionally equivalents to cow’s milk.

NMFP argues that assumption poses a public health risk and contends the FDA needs to end the deceptive labeling of such products as almond milk.

Performed by Ipsos, a global market research firm, the survey of more than 2,000 adults found 77 percent of them view almond milk as having the same or more protein compared with dairy milk. It also found 68 percent believe it has the same or more key nutrients as cow’s milk.

Similar results were found for soy and coconut milks.

“We certainly felt that a lot of the findings bolster our case,” Alan Bjerga, NMPF senior vice president of communications, said.

For instance, the majority of those surveyed believe almond milk is nutritionally equal to or superior to real milk, when in reality it only contains one-eighth of the protein of cow’s milk, he said.

Surveys have been done in the past to determine if consumers are confused about the source of alternative products, and the plant-food industry has tied the label debate to that issue saying consumers are not confused, he said.

Consumers know that milk alternatives are made from different stuff, but they think the nutrition is similar to real dairy when often it is inferior, he said.

“The confusion is about the nutritional content of these beverages,” he said.

Media and anecdotal reports suggest parents are feeding these dairy alternatives to children thinking they are providing sufficient nutrition, he said.

“They think they’re the same thing, and they are very different,” he said.

And it’s not their fault. The alternative products are packaged and labeled like dairy products and stocked in the dairy case. Consumers are relying on that cue and not the nutrition label, he said.

The data show consumers are being misled about the nutritional merits of cow’s milk versus plant-based alternatives, Jim Mulhern, NMPF president and CEO, said in a press release.

“The plant-based food and beverage industry has used FDA inaction as a cover to sell consumers a product that is heavily processed to look like real milk but doesn’t deliver what matters most — a consistent high-quality package of nutrients,” he said.

That is contrary to the national goal of a healthy population and FDA’s mission to promote transparency and fairness, he said.

With media reports suggesting more U.S. children suffer from nutritionally inadequate diets, milk labeling “is much more than a sideshow over whether consumers can tell the difference between an almond and a cow,” he said.

FDA needs to help consumers by clearly distinguishing between true milk and water-heavy, nutrition-poor imitators and immediately end the application of the term “milk” to non-dairy products, he said.

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