Non-dairy is not ‘milk’

Australian dairy industry advocacy group Dairy Connect has called for a truth in labelling ‘crackdown’ on processed plant liquids sold to retail consumers as ‘milks’.

Non-dairy ‘milks’ marketed nationally include soy, cashew, almond, oat, hemp, rice and coconut extracts.

Dairy Connect CEO Shaughn Morgan said today that the use of the word ‘milk’ could confuse consumers; and non-dairy products lacked the nutritional and health benefits delivered by fresh milk from everyday dairy cows.

His comments were part of a preview today of Dairy Connect’s advocacy focus for the coming year.

The agency would be lobbying for greater fairness along the industry value chain and would be particularly ramping up its efforts to deliver greater equity to dairy producers.

This would be done either through a pan-industry voluntary code of conduct or by the Government considering legislation focusing on commercial short form contracts, Shaughn said.

“We have looked at overseas markets and, in most cases, what we describe as mislabeling of processed vegetable products as ‘milk’ is a challenge for dairy producers in most consumer markets,” he said.

“In the USA, the National Milk Producers’ Federation characterises such labeling as a misappropriation of ‘traditional dairy terms’ and says that ‘food labels should clearly and accurately identify the true nature of the food to the consumer’.

“These non-dairy businesses should not be permitted to represent their products as something they are not.”

Shaughn Morgan said that fresh liquid milk was a premium quality, short shelf-life food of immense nutritional value to humans.

“We do not believe that plant-based milk alternatives have the same nutrient content as cows’ milk,” he said.

“Milk generally contains higher levels of protein and a wider range of vitamins and minerals.

“Children need sufficient protein and energy for normal growth and development.

“If beverages like almond or rice extracts are a regular part of a young child’s diet, other food sources of protein and energy need to replace the protein and energy otherwise provided by milk.

“Plant-based beverages that contain less protein than milk are required to have advice on the label that the product is not suitable as a complete milk replacement for children under 5 years old.”

Meanwhile back in the USA, a bipartisan group of 32 congressmen recently sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration asking it to enforce its own definition of milk.

That definition requires the dairy product be ‘obtained by the complete milking of one or more cows’.

The letter asks the FDA to stop plant-based products from being labeled as milk.

Senior vice president with the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, Patrick Geoghegan, said the vegetable based products were trying to trade on dairy’s good name.

“The beverage category is much more competitive today than it has ever been,” he said.

“There are many beverages to choose from and I think some of the plant based beverages have certainly taken market share away from fresh fluid milk.”

In 2016, plant-based products had reportedly generated US$1.4 billion in sales and had seen 54 per cent sales growth during the past five years.

Graham Forbes, President of the Farmers Group of Dairy Connect, indicated that this matter will be raised with the Senate Economics Committee when Dairy Connect appears before the Committee in late January.

“The Senate Committee has a wide brief with its inquiry into the Australian dairy industry and Dairy Connect looks forward to providing the Committee with information as to the way forward for the dairy industry generally. Enforcing appropriate labels for ‘milk’ is one step that can be taken for the dairy industry”, Mr Forbes said.