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Zombie Soy Milk Petition Awakens to Bring Everlasting Life to Nondairy Milks

Zombie Soy Milk Petition Awakens to Bring Everlasting Life to Nondairy Milks

Flickr/Adrian Cooke

The Soyfoods Association filed a petition with the FDA in 1997 urging the agency to update the standards of identity to include the use of the word “milk” in defining soy milk -- then the most popular nondairy milk product in a rather small but growing category with few other options (like rice and oat milk). This sleeping petition, which has gone unanswered for more than two decades, says the Good Food Institute (GFI), deserves a reply from the agency. And, says GFI, definitions need updated to include all nondairy milk products -- which is now an industry expected to reach $21.7 billion in the next six years, with almond milk making up 68 percent of all nondairy milk sales while sales of cow's milk have been steadily declining over the last three decades.

“While soy milk is a traditional food and has been consumed in the United States since at least the 1930s, its popularity has soared over the past twenty years,” GFI’s executive director Bruce Friedrich and policy director Jessica Almy wrote in a letter to the agency yesterday. “More and more consumers have sought out soy milk, almond milk, and other plant-based milks.”

The letter to the FDA comes as the nondairy sector has been under attack by the dairy industry over use of terms including milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream – words that, when preceded by their sources (almond, coconut, soy, etc), make it clear to the consumer that the product is not animal-based.

The courts have agreed to this as well.

“Just last month, the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of California stayed a case over the use of the term “almondmilk,” referring the matter to your agency, which it found had primary jurisdiction,” writes Friedrich and Almy.

Earlier this year California judge Stephen Wilson in the central district, threw out a case against Almond Breeze almond milk producer, Blue Diamond, that alleged the term "milk" to be misleading.

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“By using the term 'almond milk', even the least sophisticated consumer would know instantly the type of product they are purchasing,” he wrote in his decision.

But recent legislation known as the DAIRY PRIDE Act aims to suppress nondairy companies’ labeling options, a move the Plant Based Foods Association says won’t deter customer interest in the booming category that's properly labeling its products for consumers.

“If ‘milk’ was the only world on a container of almond milk, that could be a problem,” Michele Simon, Executive Director of the Plant Based Foods Association told Organic Authority in February. “But they’re not doing that. No company is doing that. The dairy industry wants to take it out of context.”

Friedrich and Almy note that skim (cow’s) milk fails to qualify under the FDA’s current standards of identity for milk, according to a recent judge’s decision – and therefore, allowing nondairy producers from using these common terms “would be consistent with the First Amendment,” and legislation like the DAIRY PRIDE Act aimed at thwarting these efforts “would be unconstitutional.”

"Consumers refer to soy milk as soy milk. The term clearly communicates that soy milk is a form of milk that is made of soy," note Friedrich and Almy. "Likewise, rice noodles are noodles that are made of rice, and gluten-free bread is a form of bread that does not contain gluten. FDA should provide clarity that such straightforward terms are acceptable."

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