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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 29, 2010

Limits sought on what's called 'milk'

USA Today

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The lobbying group for milk producers have asked the FDA to require that plant-based beverages such as soy milk be labeled something else other than "milk."

PAUL HILTON | Bloomberg News Service

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Got milk? The National Milk Producers Federation says you don't, not if what you grab from the dairy case today is soy, rice or almond milk.

For the second time in 10 years, the federation has written to the Food and Drug Administration asking that the term "milk" be reserved for cow's milk, although it's OK with also using the word for goat, sheep or water buffalo milk any of the various "mammalian lacteal secretions."

The federation says the FDA should require that plant-based beverages be labeled something else, noting terms such as "drinks," "beverages" or even "imitation milk."

The FDA is "letting the bastardization of dairy terms proliferate," said federation spokesman Christopher Galen. The group has even launched a Facebook page: "They Don't Got Milk."

"We had to do something," Galen said.

With an increase in those who perceive plant-derived products as healthier and a growing Asian population accustomed to soymilk, the market for non-dairy "milk" products as well as non-dairy cheeses, yogurts and ice creams is on the increase.

Over the past 10 years, such drinks have expanded from just soymilk, a millennia-old Asian beverage, to include "milks" from a variety of plants, including hemp and peanuts.

In 1996, the market for soymilk was $124 million. In 2008, it was more than $1 billion, said Nancy Chapman, executive director of the Soyfoods Association of North America.

Sales of cow's milk were about $12.3 billion for 2008, says research firm Symphony IRI Group.

It was the soymilk producers who first went to the FDA, in 1996, to ask that soymilk be allowed as a "common and usual name" for their product.

The FDA never responded.

The National Milk Producers group filed its first protest letter about the term "soymilk" in 2000 but received no answer, Galen said. In a subsequent letter to the FDA, the Soyfoods Association argued that as long as the word "milk" was qualified by "soy," consumers wouldn't be confused.

The FDA seems inclined to stay out of it this round as well.

"We evaluate all these communications, but we plan our actions based on what will make the most impact for the public health," said spokeswoman Siobhan DeLancey.