The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a draft guidance on how companies should label plant-based milk alternative products, including almond, soy, and oat milk. While the guidelines are intended to facilitate synergy in the category, and transparency for purchasers they have been met with controversy from industry experts.
Under the direction of the new FDA guidelines, any plant-based milk product with the word “milk” in its name should include a statement explaining how the product compares with dairy milk. These indications could be made through statements such as “contains lower amounts of Vitamin D and calcium than milk” or “contains less fat than milk.”
These guidelines are voluntary and it will be at the discretion of the manufacturers themselves whether to implement the new labeling system. Though, the FDA is encouraging following these guidelines with the stance that these will increase transparency and enable consumers to make more informed purchasing decisions.
FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, M.D. said of the guidelines “the draft recommendations issued today should lead to providing consumers with clear labeling to give them the information they need to make informed nutrition and purchasing decisions on the products they buy for themselves and their families.”
Though experts have criticized the FDA’s release, noting that the draft guidelines assume that cow milk is the superior standard and questioning whether this is the most nutritionally beneficial benchmark for consumers to measure against.
Nutrition researcher Dr. Walter Willett, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School inquired “might human milk not be a better standard?” adding “the requirement for the same protein content as in cow milk is dubious, as protein intake has not been recognized as a critical issue for children.”
Others have noted that humans are the only mammals that drink milk from other animals and questioned whether preferred plant-based milks could be the standard with bovine milk producers having to declare how their products differ from these.
These milk products present many benefits for consumers, not only are these products dairy-free which caters to plant-based consumers and those affected by dairy intolerance but the production processes often involve less waste and pollution than traditional dairy farming practices.
SDC portfolio company Numilk, for example, offers an in-home device for producing plant-based milk as needed and has found that using this can reduce a household’s carbon footprint by 32 kg annually.
The FDA is currently requesting comment on the issued guidelines. Electronic comments should be submitted to https://www.regulations.gov while written comments should be sent to the Dockets Management Staff (HFA-305), Food and Drug Administration, 5630 Fishers Lane, rm. 1061, Rockville, MD 20852. All comments should be identified with the docket number FDA-2023-D-0451.