FDA draft guidance pushes for voluntary nutrient labels on plant-based milk
23 Feb 2023 --- The US government has made recommendations that plant-based milk should carry a label pointing out the nutritional difference between dairy milk and alt-milk. Officials suggest a voluntary label reform that could see brands specifically saying cow milk has a “better” nutritional profile than milk made from soy, coconut, oat, almond, and other plant-based ingredients.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), any plant-based milk alternative product that includes the term “milk” in its name (e.g., “soy milk” or “almond milk”) and that has a nutrient composition that is different from milk, should include a voluntary nutrient statement that conveys how the product compares with milk.
And the statement should be based on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Food and Nutrition Service fluid milk substitutes nutrient criteria.
For example, the label could say: “Contains lower amounts of Vitamin D and calcium than milk.”
However, the FDA has also ruled that plant-based milks can continue to use the term “milk.”
ProVeg International – which had raised concerns over the potential for the US government to clamp down on plant-based alternatives being allowed to use words like “milk” – is breathing a sigh of relief on the draft guidance and claiming “a victory for common sense.”
“We hope that the EU will take note,” says Jasmijn de Boo, vice president of ProVeg International. “Everyone knows that oat milk, for example, is from oats and not from cows. Studies have shown that consumers are not confused. The FDA has taken the right approach, and we hope this helps to bring an end to the restriction of plant-based labels in other parts of the world,” she asserts.
Growing appetite for plant-based milks
In addition to the increase in market availability and consumption, the variety of alternative products available in the marketplace has also greatly expanded from soy, rice, and almond to include cashew, coconut, flaxseed, hazelnut, hemp seed, macadamia nut, oat, pea, peanut, pecan, quinoa, and walnut-based beverages.
Although these products are made from liquid-based extracts of plant materials, such as tree nuts, legumes, seeds, or grains, they are frequently labeled with names that include the term “milk.”
The draft guidance entitled “Labeling of Plant-based Milk Alternatives and Voluntary Nutrient Statements: Guidance for Industry” details how dairy foods, including milk, are recommended by the Dietary Guidelines as part of a healthy eating pattern and contribute multiple key nutrients, including protein and vitamins A and B-12, along with calcium, potassium and vitamin D, which are currently under-consumed.
Nutritional composition highlighted
According to the FDA, the Dietary Guidelines only include fortified soy beverages in the dairy group because their nutrient composition is similar to that of milk.
However, the nutritional composition of plant-based milk alternative products varies widely within and across types, and many do not contain the same levels of crucial nutrients as milk, the agency flags.
This is underscored as the consumption of plant-based milks is increasing with a significant diversification of ingredients.
“Getting enough of the nutrients in milk and fortified soy beverages is especially important to help children grow and develop, and parents and caregivers should know that many plant-based alternatives do not have the same nutrients as milk,” says Susan T. Mayne, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
“Food labels are an important way to help support consumer behavior, so we encourage the use of the voluntary nutritional statements to help better customers make informed decisions.”
The FDA’s draft guidance is open to comments – to be submitted by April 24, 2023 – under a two-month consultation period.
“The draft guidance was developed to help address the significant increase in plant-based milk alternative products that we have seen become available in the marketplace over the past decade,” says FDA commissioner Robert M. Califf.
“They 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.”
Meanwhile, ProVeg is also flagging why plant-based milk should be promoted, not restricted.
Plant-based milks typically have a much smaller carbon footprint, between 63% and 78% smaller than animal-based milk. In addition, global greenhouse gas emissions from animal-based foods are twice those from plant-based foods, so policies need to be pushed that encourage plant-based nutrition,” the organization says.
ProVeg also points out how as well as being climate-friendly, fortified and unsweetened plant milks also offer nutritious alternatives for people who do not drink dairy milk.
They say that such alternatives play an important role in a well-balanced varied vegan diet, or any diet trying to reduce animal consumption. “People choose dairy alternatives for their functional use, not because they need to resemble an animal product exactly in nutritional value.”
By Gaynor Selby
To contact our editorial team please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Subscribe now to receive the latest news directly into your inbox.