FDA

The FDA's Fixation on Nut Milk Labeling Is Not About Food Safety or Consumer Health

So why is the agency even involved?

|

Richard B. Levine/Newscom

Food and Drug Administration chief Scott Gottlieb announced earlier this week that his agency is reviewing "more than 10,000 comments" it has received about whether plant-based food products may market themselves using language more commonly associated with animal products. More simply: Can almond milk call itself milk?

The FDA proposed in July that no product could use the word "milk" on a label unless the substance inside was a "lacteal secretion…obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows." Gottlieb noted at the time that "an almond does not lactate."

The FDA thinks it is required to weigh in on this debate due to "standards of identity" rules in the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938. These rules allow the federal government to monitor and fine companies both for mislabeling food products and skimping on the principal ingredients: If the label says "baked beans," the can should contain baked beans—and lots of them.

"Standard of identity" rules have evolved over time as food manufacturing has advanced. While the FDA's current attempt to regulate how plant-based products market themselves may look like just another update, it offers no obvious benefit to consumers, for whom the original rules were written.

"No one buys almond milk under the false illusion that it came from a cow," Sen. Mike Lee (R–Utah) noted last year. "They buy almond milk because it didn't come from a cow."

But now the agency is advancing another rationale for interfering. In his speech this week at a conference hosted by the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, Gottlieb said

we have concerns that the labeling of some plant-based products—which we know can vary widely in their nutritional content—is leading consumers to believe that those products have the same key nutritional attributes as dairy products. Our goal is to help make sure that consumers are empowered with the information that they need to make informed dietary choices.

This is largely nonsense. No nutrient that humans require to live and thrive is found exclusively in dairy products. Vitamin D is added to milk through fortification (in July 2016, the FDA approved vitamin D fortification in—you guessed it!—nut milks). Calcium and vitamin B can be found in a range of plants, nuts, grains, and legumes, some combination of which is likely consumed in sufficient amounts by vegetarians and vegans. For those who miss the mark, there are vitamin supplements. This is to say nothing of the many places around the world where adult human beings are thriving despite consuming essentially no dairy products, due to lactose intolerance.

The idea that dairy is essential to a balanced diet is a marketing myth advanced by people who make their living off cows. It's right up there with the idea that drinking orange juice—nature's Coca-Cola—is the optimal way to get vitamin C. These claims are not true. They have been advanced by agricultural lobbies to protect their members' market share.

And that's OK! There is absolutely nothing wrong with the cheese and milk and yogurt sellers of the world trying to convince the rest of us that their products are excellent sources of protein and dietary fats and various micronutrients. I love a good aged gouda—the more crystals the better!—and I put half-and-half in my coffee. But I do most of my chugging with almond milk because too much dairy makes me fart and even whole milk has way too much sugar for my liking. I am not being misled, nor is anyone else buying nut milk or vegan cheese or eggless mayo or meatless burgers. Likewise, the FDA is not wading into this debate for the sake of consumers; it is doing it for the lobbies that represent animal products manufacturers, which have deep pockets and continue to wield immense influence over legislators.

Legislators, at least, have been honest about their motives. As Reason columnist Baylen Linnekin noted in 2017, Rep. Peter Welch (D–Vt.), pushed the FDA to act against almond milk and similar products in order "to protect Vermont's dairy farmers."

As Linnekin also noted, protecting ranchers and farmers is not the FDA's job. If Gottlieb wants to do it anyway, he and his agency shouldn't pretend they're doing it for consumers.

NEXT: "Cleaning Up the Lemon Mess"

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Nut milk? Oh jeez this is ready made for Crusty. Is he still banned?

    1. It’s just too easy………

      1. Although I must lint out that Tony is the one who is actually obsessed with nut milk. I hear he likes it right off the tap coating his fudge brownie.

    2. You man Almonds don’t have breasts?

      1. Google is now paying $17000 to $22000 per month for working online from home. I have joined this job 2 months ago and i have earned $20544 in my first month from this job. I can say my life is changed-completely for the better! Check it out whaat i do…..

        click here ======?? http://www.payshd.com

  2. “Healthy cows”? What about goat milk? Goat cheese?

    Speciesist!

    1. Or Milk of Magnesia! People don’t realize how hard it is to milk a magnesia.

      1. For that matter what about the Milky Way and I don’t mean the candy bar.

  3. They can milk my nuts!

  4. Cracking down on ersatz dairy fraud is the least bad thing Scott Gottlieb is doing.

    1. He has been quite the disappointment.

      1. Hey why did you get banned yesterday?

      2. Gottlieb is Trump’s worst appointee by far.
        Preventing/sanctioning fraud and adulteration is the only legitimate FDA task.

        1. And unfortunately the hullabaloo over all this assorted nonsense has lead to his poor actions going unreported.

  5. I am not being misled, nor is anyone else buying nut milk or vegan cheese or eggless mayo or meatless burgers.

    The products are not milk, cheese, mayo or burgers. The producers should come up with new catchy names (like margarine and miracle whip had to) or insert the word “imitation”, “artificial” or “substitute” in the name. The Germans have a nice short catchy adjective , ersatz..

    1. Hamburger is the name of the sandwich and not what goes in it.

      1. Here in America “hamburger” is synonymous with “ground beef”.

        1. Not in my house it isn’t!

          1. Go back to EUROPE commie!

            1. This sort of linguistic prescriptivism is rather communist, actually. Also, I have never in my entire life thought that “milk” referred exclusively to bovine lacteal secretions. The objection that calling other substances “milk” is “fraud”ulent is raised at least a century too late. Nobody alive today could possibly be under any delusion.

              1. Goddamit, forgot the fucking quotes.

                at least a century too late

        2. I have consistently made other ground meat hamburgers throughout my life. This is a euphemism, but I leave it to you to figure out for what.

        3. Here in America “hamburger” is synonymous with “ground beef”.

          And turkey burger is synonymous with ground turkey. Since nobody is selling veggie hamburgers, this shouldn’t be a problem.

          1. Nothing like some good old steamed hams.

        4. By law, in fact.

    2. If the product says just “milk” then I except to get milk. Hopefully cows milk, but if I get opossum milk instead I know not to buy that nasty shit again. But when I see a label that says “almond milk” I know I’m getting almond milk. Because that’s what the label says.

      Ditto for “vegan cheese” or “meatless burger patty” or “tofu keilbasa”. I don’t need a trademarked brand name like margarine, a simple ” veggie butter” would have been fine.

      1. There is no such thing as almond milk, as there is no amond titty, now is there? It’s almond juice, not moo cow fuck milk.

        Lewis Black explains all this in detail.

        https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=6_wDEjCpeOc

        1. But if its labeled ‘almond milk’ is anyone confused? Is anyone seriously thinking its little almonds jammed up in a stall with an industrial vacuum attached to their teats?

          1. Exactly. I buy “almond milk” because it is not real milk.

          2. It was around for a while before I realized it wasn’t almond-flavored dairy milk, so, yeah, I was confused. Should’ve known by analogy to coconut milk, though.

            1. Do you ever look at the ingredients?

        2. Milk of magnesia predates Lewis Black’s comedic ignorance by decades and decades. You were not born yet when “milk” had had other referents for decades.

          Also, you’re retarded.

          1. Oh piss off. The Black milk bit is funny. And you’re not smart, you’re just a buzzkill.

            And I wouldn’t be impugning the intellect of others with that dull little mass of grey matter.

    3. Almond milk isn’t something new. It has existed, with that name, at least since the 14th century.

  6. “lacteal secretion…obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows.”

    What about incomplete milking? Is this some kind of two cows one bottle rule?

    1. Incomplete milking is a serious medical condition affecting many dairy owners of this country. I would appreciate you not joking about it.

    2. ‘You mean that have more than 2 tits? No way, man!’

  7. If milk can only come from cows, what do we call the lacteate secretions of goats? I mean seriously, goat milk is thing. Not talking eebil anarchic raw milk here, but bona fide already approved by FDA goat milk. Milk from goats.

    1. Sorry, call it something else. Goat juice is probably acceptable.

      1. Goat juice refers to a different secretion.

        1. Goat nut juice.

          1. And I fprefer all interested parties to Crusty for any elaboration.

    2. Because this is not to help people, but is simply a regulation to help out big cow lacteal secretions at the expensive of small mom and pop lacteal secretion providers.

  8. Milk producers have spent too much time and money convincing us that milk is an important part of our diet. They don’t want consumers to think that nut milk is an equivalent nutritional substitute.

    So I sympathize with their point but I don’t think it holds up in court.

  9. It’s not about fooling people, it’s about not polluting the language. Yes, “milk” has a warm and fuzzy feeling (at least to those of us of European decent) whereas “almond lipid emulsion” ain’t gonna sell much product. But milk means we can expect that it has some passing relationship with something that came from mammalian breast. (Please don’t get on my case about “pigeon milk”.)

    Is this nut “milk” worthy of legislation? No!

    Does is need a good edit? Yes!

  10. More simply: Can almond milk call itself milk?

    Is the point here that dropping the adjective ‘almond’ would lead to competition over what the un-adjectived noun ‘milk’ means?

  11. Nut milk? Did Robert Kraft get in trouble again?

  12. Calling the product of an extensive industrial process ‘milk’ implies that it is as simple as animal based milks

    Which it isn’t.

    1. Extensive industrial process?

      You mean like heating the product from somewhere between 145F to 280F, quickly chilling. Then skimming off the fat, followed by adding some of the fat back in, as well as adding some additional vitamins not naturally found in the product, then finally spraying it through a high pressure nozzle?

      1. Pasteurizing and adding fat and adding extra vitamins to real cows milk is nowhere near as extensively industrial as pulping almonds and adding water.

        1. And using a process on an existing product is the same thing as creating a new product with a procress.

        2. I’ve made almond milk in my kitchen–one of my hobbies is cooking from medieval recipes, where it is a common ingredient.

      2. Extensive industrial process?

        You mean like heating the product from somewhere between 145F to 280F, quickly chilling. Then skimming off the fat, followed by adding some of the fat back in, as well as adding some additional vitamins not naturally found in the product, then finally spraying it through a high pressure nozzle?

        No, I don’t mean anything like that.

        Those are things that are done TO milk. They’re not part of making milk.

        But thanks for playing.

        Please accept the education you were just given as a consolation prize.

        1. So if I take an almond and squash it into pulp, I’ve done something TO an almond, yes? And if I take that pulp and put it in water I’ve done something TO the the pulp, yes?

          1. Of course.

            And if you allow that combination of water and pulp to sit for a while, and then add some emulsifiers to help with the texture of the product, and some flavorings to help with the taste (all of which require their OWN industrial processes) you will get a liquid that simulates milk.

            If you want milk, squeeze a teat into a glass. You’re done. Drink up. It will taste just like what it is. warm milk.

            Please accept the education you were just given as a consolation prize.

            1. So, to be clear, Azathoth favors government meddling in this area?

              If so, what a surprise.

            2. Do you skim the pus out first or is that on the label too? How about the hormones and antibiotics? Still natural? I can’t wait for my consolation prize.

    2. If you’re concerned about the “extensive industrial process” to prepare almond milk, I suspect you’ve never actually watched the whole process used to prepare modern cow milk. It is every bit as extensive and industrial.

      1. But at least there are living animals that get to experience the industrialization!

  13. no product could use the word “milk” on a label unless the substance inside was a “lacteal secretion…obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows.”

    One supposes that’s why human breast milk is not a labeled product.

    Too bad — Think of the JOBS!

  14. Can almond milk call itself milk?

    “No, it cannot. It’s *milk*.”

    /YA bad GEICO commercial

  15. #LIBERTARIANS4FRAUD

    1. #RealLibertariansHaveReadingComprehensionProblems
      #BlamePrivateSchools
      #EverythingIsLiteral

    2. Holy Jesus fuck, you get stupider with every post.

  16. Last time I checked, I never had to go shopping a gallon of “100% Cow’s Milk”. Milk gets the benefit of assumption that it comes from Bovine unless stated other wise – Goat Milk, Almond Milk, Coconut Milk (been around forever, no ever challenged it).

    1. Milk of magnesia was first called as such in 1872. These fucking linguistic prescriptivist commies are seeking nothing more than the legislative enforcement of their aesthetic preferences.

      How very libertarian.

      1. But but but milk of magnesia is literally fraud and libertarians have to support the state coercion in support of large industries because I don’t personally consume almond milk (and am even a little threatened by it)

    2. 1) That presumption is valid the US and parts of Europe. In other parts of the world, “milk” is assumed to be from goat.

      2) No one is seeking to challenge that presumption. Almond milk sellers currently call their product almond milk and say that they want to continue doing so. The FDA, on the other hand (and the cow milk producers), want to force the almond milk sellers to call their product something else. Contrary to the FDA’s claims, the name change will increase consumer confusion, not decrease it.

  17. Legislators, at least, have been honest about their motives…. Rep. Peter Welch (D?Vt.), pushed the FDA to act … “to protect Vermont’s dairy farmers.”

    Honest? Seriously?

    He acted in exchange for votes and campaign contributions.

    Same kind of “protection” organized crime sells.

  18. Look, the point is to examine the labeling in context, against a background that consumers assume “milk” comes from cows unless the label makes of a point of explaining otherwise.

    Any other approach is just nuts.

    Don’t sell out for the corporate cashew.

    Or you’ll be as unpopular as the Creature from the Black Legume.

    1. But if you censor a nonmisleading label, I’m going to be pistachio.

      1. better — almond going to be pistachio.

  19. More simply: Can almond milk call itself milk?

    To take an opportunity to be pedantic – no it can not.

    1. Hence the word ‘almond’.

  20. Our goal is to help make sure that consumers are empowered with the information that they need to make informed dietary choices.

    That may be your goal – is that within your remit? Is it within your authority? Is it part of the purpose of your agency?

    The answer to those three questions – questions no one seems to want to ask them – is no. No it is not. So fucking stop it.

    1. Even here, Riggs, you’re letting them define the argument. By not attacking their legitimacy to set that ‘goal’. You point out that there are other sources of the nutrition milk provides – but that doesn’t matter.

  21. Why is the FDA getting involved? Its called kickbacks and pays very well. Costco was way ahead of this curve and has labeled their almond, soy milk — almond non-dairy beverage, soy ndb around 5 years now. Can’t stop demand!

  22. “an almond does not lactate”…not even 2 months in and we already have the best quote of the year. here’s to 2019!

  23. Who gives a shit? Is anyone confused about the difference between milk and almond-milk? Does anyone go to the store intending to buy milk and come home with soymilk because it’s too confusing?

    This smacks of desperation on the part of the dairy industry too. Maybe I underestimate people’s silliness, but I have a hard time believing that the fact that non-dairy milk-imitating beverages cut into milk sales because they are allowed to have the word “milk” on the package.

    1. Basically. I have no idea what all the fuss is about. Consumers seem to be able to find what they want so what’s the problem?

      1. It’s amusing, though, how all of the reactionary pseudo-libertarian idiots who post here seem to think that aesthetic preferences justify legislative action.

    2. Zeb|2.28.19 @ 4:58PM|#

      “Who gives a shit? Is anyone confused about the difference between milk and almond-milk? Does anyone go to the store intending to buy milk and come home with soymilk because it’s too confusing?”

      Unfortunately, for about 20% of the population, the answer is “yes.”

  24. “we have concerns that the labeling of some plant-based products?which we know can vary widely in their nutritional content?is leading consumers to believe that those products have the same key nutritional attributes as dairy products. Our goal is to help make sure that consumers are empowered with the information that they need to make informed dietary choices.”

    I thought all products carried federally mandated nutrition labels. Is he saying those labels are ineffective? That the FDA is a waste of federal tax dollars?

  25. Milk has a specific technical meaning which all the so-called vegetable milks do not meet. Milk is a product from a female mammal for the primary purpose of feeding her young. Milk in the Western world is generally from cows. In other cultures milks can be from sheep, goats, camels and horses. Why destroy the meaning of a specific word for marketing based upon false premises.

    1. Milk of magnesia
      Milk of lime
      Milk of sulfur
      and probably a dozen other old-fashioned names for suspensions of various whitish organic or inorganic solids in water.

      Also coconut milk. Your assertion that milk has “a specific technical meaning” is the position that the FDA is trying to create but there is little historical or linguistic basis for that position.

      1. re: “suspensions of various whitish organic or inorganic solids in water” After reflection, I have to amend my description.

        1. Strike “whitish”. Several of those suspensions are decidedly non-white. They are all, however, opaque.
        2. Strike “water”. While that is the most common liquid, it is not the only one used.

  26. Almond milk, so named, goes back to the Medieval period. Cookbooks of the era often had lent and non-lent versions of dishes, and often the lent versions used almond milk. it was mentioned in the “Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes”, by botanist and herbalist John Gerarde in 1636 as a cure for insomnia.

    It’s several hundred years too late to get stuffy about it.

    1. C. S. P. Schofield|2.28.19 @ 9:46PM|#

      “It’s several hundred years too late to get stuffy about it.”

      It’s never too late.

  27. “So why is the agency even involved?”

    The Lefts exists to expand their power. They get involved in anything they can get away with getting involved with.

    You can never read 1984 Part 3, Chapter 3 enough. O’Brien explains the Modern Left.
    http://www.george-orwell.org/1984/19.html

    Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?

    But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.

    1. Thanks for this reminder. I think the lefts biggest problem is their denial of the reality of their human nature. They really think they as a group are are part angels.

      1. Absolutely. Everything done is for our own good…
        So how could that possibly go wrong?

    2. All true, but sadly this describes more than just the “left.”

  28. For what it’s worth, the term “almond milk” has been in use at least since the fourteenth century. It appears in recipes, especially recipes for Lent, when real milk, among other things, was forbidden.

  29. The most ridiculous part is the dairy industry believes that if the word “milk” is removed people will stop using Almond milk. Like we reach for it at the grocery store because it says it’s milk.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.