Farmer group: Time to end 'anything goes' dairy labeling of plant-based products

Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative
Farm Forum

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Given the blitz of dairy imitation foods hitting grocery stores and the corresponding customer confusion, a cooperative representing dairy farmers throughout the Midwest is demanding the U.S. Food and Drug Administration no longer turn a blind eye to misleading labeling.

In comments submitted to the FDA recently, Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative called on the agency to “take immediate action” to enforce existing regulations that define dairy foods as originating from cow’s milk. The enforcement is long overdue and increasingly important, Edge said.

“The number of plant-based products using dairy names on the label has increased dramatically in recent years.... The lack of FDA action has led to an anything goes mentality in the marketplace,” the co-op, one of the largest in the country by milk volume, said in its comments.

Labeling plant-based products to mimic milk, cheese, yogurt and other real dairy foods betrays the trust of customers who equate dairy with health and nutrition — which are frequently cited as main purchase criteria for shoppers buying dairy or plant-based foods and beverages, Edge said. In reality, the nutritional value of dairy products is greater.

The co-op also cited the results of third-party national research it commissioned with other dairy groups in Wisconsin regarding customer perceptions of plant-based foods labeled to mimic real cheese. The survey showed that customers were confused about whether the imitations were indeed cheese and whether they carried the same nutritional value.

Edge submitted its comments after the FDA asked for public input to help determine customers’ understanding of the labeling and product differences and the effects on purchasing decisions. The FDA says the input could affect any industry guidance it might issue.