By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
National Milk Producers Federation has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration asking the agency to crack down on the misappropriation of dairy terminology on imitation milk products.
National Milk took similar action a decade ago and says the practice has gotten worse in the past 10 years.
In its petition submitted April 29, NMPF contends that not only have terms like "soy milk" continued to proliferate, but other dairy-specific terms like "yogurt," "cheese" and "ice cream" are now being used for products made from non-dairy ingredients.
When Beth Briczinski, director of food and nutrition for NMPF, started revisiting the issue a few months ago, she was aware of the big offenders, such as soy milk, almond milk and rice milk. But she found a plethora of other products claiming the milk label, such as "milk" made from potatoes, peanuts and peas.
"If you can grow it and put it in a blender, you can take what comes out of it and call it milk," she said. "That's why we thought it was a good time to address it again. It's gotten so pervasive and so ridiculous."
"The FDA has allowed the meaning of 'milk' to be watered down to the point where many products that use the term have never seen the inside of a barn," Jerry Kozak, president and CEO of National Milk, said in a press release. "You don't get milk if it comes from a hemp plant, you can't say cheese if it's made from rice, and faux yogurt can't be made from soy and still be called yogurt."
National Milk is asking the agency to make clear to manufacturers of imitation dairy products that product names permitted by federal standards of identity, including dairy terms such as "milk," are to be used only on foods actually made from milk from animals like cows, goats and sheep.
The organization wants FDA to enforce its own regulations regarding the labeling of milk and other products, Briczinski said.
While National Milk tried to collect data to show monetary harm to the dairy industry from consumers moving from dairy to alternative products, those numbers proved hard to quantify. The bigger issue, perhaps, is harm to consumers, Briczinski said.
"What we're really pointing out is the harm to consumers who may not be aware, nutritionally of these products that use milk in their name," she said.
In many cases, these products don't contain the equivalent levels of nutrients that real milk does, she said.
Why FDA hasn't enforced product identification in the matter since National Milk first requested is a good question, Briczinski said.
"I can't even begin to guess why they haven't addressed it," she said.
Examples of such products can be found at: www.facebook.com/theydontgotmilk
Consumers can use a Web form to send examples to FDA and/or urge the agency to take action at: www.nmpf.org/fda-form
A commercial for Silk soymilk that features a talking cow: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvmVWlUBiOA