Dairy farmers call for labelling crackdown on the word 'milk'
28 February 2017
Australia's dairy farmers are calling for a "truth in labelling crackdown" on the way the word "milk" is used by makers of plant-based milk products.
Dairy Connect, a lobby group for NSW dairy farmers, says "milk" is defined by Food Standards as the mammary secretion of milking animals, and the use of the term on products such as soy and almond milks was confusing consumers.
"We're not trying to constrict a product, it's about appropriate labelling so that whether it's milked from a mammal or a product from a plant, people can make an informed decision," says its chief executive Shaughn Morgan.
"There are other titles they can use, and in some instances, they can call it water, juice, or another name."
In the US, a bipartisan group of 32 congressmen has sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration, urging it to investigate and take action against makers of "fake milk" that doesn't come from cows.
They believe the use of the word "milk" on soy, almond, and other types of plant-based products is misleading, deceptive and harmful to the dairy industry.
In Australia, dairy farmers recently raised the issue at a Senate inquiry hearing into the dairy industry.
Dairy milk sales have grown by 13 per cent in volume over the past five years. To compare, plant-based milk sales have increased by about 30 per cent in the same time.
Non-dairy milks now occupy 9.4 per cent of the market by value and 6.1 per cent by volume - reflecting the high price points.
Dairy Australia says plant-based milks had some impact on dairy milk sales, but these alternatives also competed with each other.
"In recent years almond and coconut products have made gains at the expense of soy and rice-based beverages," says its senior analyst John Droppert.
"Furthermore, it's probably fair to say many consumers of plant-based beverages are unlikely to consume dairy products for philosophical or other reasons."
Pureharvest, which makes non-dairy milks, says the dictionary definition of "milk" referred to the juice of nuts and coconuts.
"[Using 'water' and 'juice'] would be misleading. The term milk with the appropriate descriptor is the correct and proper way to inform consumers what the product is," it says.
"Why this fear from the dairy industry about words and terms that have been in use and understood by consumers for a long time?" it says.
Mitch Humphries, president of the Australian Buffalo Industry Council, says it was considering how it will support Dairy Connect because it was also frustrated by the misuse of the word.
"You can't use corn syrup and call it honey and you don't expect margarine to be branded as butter - there would be an uproar if that started happening," he says.
"Concerns about milk substitutes hijacking milk's respected name seem to be gaining increasing discussion."
Lauren Brisbane, a camel breeder and milk supplier, says the use of the term on non-dairy products was "pretty offensive and very misleading" and she supported Dairy Connect's move.
Mr Morgan says another issue was that non-dairy milks lacked the nutritional and health benefits provided by fresh dairy milk.
Nutritionist Susie Burrell says the biggest issues with drinks such as almond and rice milks was they were naturally low in protein and calcium, so shoppers should choose ones with added calcium and steer clear of added sugars.
"Oat milk also contains the added benefit of dietary fibre, which may help to lower blood cholesterol levels," she says.
"Soy has one of the highest sources of plant protein ... is also lower in saturated fat than dairy milk, and in general there is regular, reduced fat and low fat soy milk available to suit your preference."
The Food Standards Code says: "The context within which foods such as soy milk or soy ice cream are sold is indicated by use of the name soy; indicating that the product is not a dairy product to which a dairy standard applies."
John McQueen, Australian Dairy Farmers' interim chief executive, says the status quo was appropriate, and calling for a specific ban was a "waste of breath".
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