Spilled Soy

Few lobbies are as powerful as the dairy industry. Inside Washington, the subsidies keep flowing to it. Outside in the marketplace, milk is portrayed as vital to good health, even hipness. And nothing will be allowed to encroach on that.

The National Milk Producers Federation has filed a complaint with the Food and Drug Administration seeking a ban on the use of the word "milk" by soybean beverage makers. "Soy-based beverages are attempting to directly compete with dairy products and are inappropriately taking advantage of the familiarity and positive image of dairy terminology in their labeling," explained Rob Byrne, the federation's vice president of regulatory affairs.

But it would be a very confused consumer who mistakes soy drinks for cow's milk. Even the handful of soy products which use the word milk still feature the word soy prominently--at least as prominently, if not more so, than the butter in buttermilk. Besides, soy's appeal rests on stressing how different it is from dairy products --no lactose, no milk fat, etc. Its market consists of customers who want a dairy-free alternative.

The milk lobby's odd complaint suggests that it fears that more consumers will choose soy as it competes--gasp--with moo juice. Why that private choice should concern the FDA is not at all clear. Then again, this is the FDA.

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