Sales of plant-based milk, like almond, soy, and oat milk, have skyrocketed over the past few years. Mintel, a marketing research agency, estimated early this year that sales since 2012 have grown by 61 percent, while sales of dairy milk have dropped by 15 percent over the same period.
Dairy producers have lately been agitating for a change in labeling laws, insisting that plant-based beverages should not legally be allowed to call themselves milk. Their argument for the public generally insists that the labeling indicates to consumers that plant-based beverages offer a similar nutritional profile to dairy milk. The specifics vary based on the plant product and brand, but generally, plant-based beverages have added calcium and vitamin D in similar amounts to cow’s milk, but less protein and, often, more sugar.
Dairy sales have been down due to a variety of factors: decreased demand, increased awareness of lactose intolerance, a huge glut of supply, and lower prices. Increased availability of non-dairy alternatives could be added to that list.
The regulations say dairy producers, are actually quite clear on the matter: The Code of Federal Regulations defines milk as a “lacteal secretion,” which obviously does not apply to almond or soy milk. “An almond doesn’t lactate, I will confess,” said Scott Gotlieb, the FDA commissioner, at a recent Politico conference.
At that same conference, Gottlieb said the FDA plans to begin the process of changing current milk labeling practices. This is not the first legislative effort on the topic; in 2017, Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin introduced a bill for the same purpose. (In a truly spectacular act of acronyms, her bill was called the DAIRY PRIDE Act, which stands for “Defending Against Imitations and Replacements of Yogurt, milk, and cheese to Promote Regular Intake of Dairy Every Day.”)
Gottlieb said the process will not be immediate, but that the FDA will begin shortly. “It probably takes something close to a year to get to go through that process,” he told Politico.