This week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a Request for Information (RFI) to solicit public comments on the matter of using terms such as “milk,” “cheese,” and “yogurt” to label plant-based products. In 2016, congressmen from dairy-producing states proposed the Dairy Pride Act with the mission of prohibiting the use of these terms—which the bill deems can only apply to animal-derived products—and urged the FDA to enforce new labeling standards for plant-based foods and beverages. After months of debate regarding labeling standards, FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb—who revealed in July his bias by stating, “an almond doesn’t lactate,” during a Politico conference—opened the discussion to the public. “We’re interested to know if consumers are aware of, and understand, the nutritional characteristics and differences among [plant-based] products—and between these products and dairy—when they make dietary choices for themselves and their families,” Gottlieb said. “The comments we receive will help inform the development of draft guidance to provide greater clarity on appropriate labeling of plant-based alternatives.”

Global consumption of dairy has declined by 22 percent between 2006 and 2016, while sales of dairy alternatives have increased three-fold from 2000 to 2016, according to recent figures compiled by animal-feed supplier Cargill. Opponents to the Dairy Pride Act and other prohibitive labeling mandates argue that consumer habits have intentionally shifted away from dairy products, and not due to labeling confusion. “American consumers are sophisticated and well-informed about plant-based foods,” trade group Plant Based Food Association (PBFA) said in a statement. “Consumers who purchase plant-based foods are keenly aware of why they are making these choices and do so for many reasons: sustainability, health, allergies, ethics, variety, and taste.” According to PBFA’s research, 78 percent of cow-milk consumers believe that “milk” is the appropriate term to use in reference to soy milk and almond milk. “Consumers know the difference between a cashew and a cow,” PBFA said. “The dairy lobby has not offered up any credible evidence of consumer confusion. In fact, our data shows that 4 in 10 households contain both plant-based and cow’s milk in their refrigerator. There’s clearly room for everyone in the marketplace.”

Public comments about the debate can be made on the Federal Register.

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