By Donna Berry | Feb 23, 2023
This past Wednesday, February 22, FDA issued guidance on plant-based beverages. Its intent is to "guide" manufacturers of plant-based beverages to disclose their nutrient inferiority compared to cows' milk and acknowledges the public health concern of nutritional confusion over such beverages.
This guidance is the first draft. It is followed with a 60-day comment period. Remember, it is guidance. Frankly, I think it's time for the dairy industry to let "milk" go and turn the conversation to "milk proteins." It's not your daddy's dairy anymore.
I also know many of you disagree. Let's agree to disagree.
"Today's draft guidance was developed to help address the significant increase in plant-based milk alternative products that we have seen become available in the marketplace over the past decade," said FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf. "The draft recommendations issued today should lead to providing consumers with clear labeling to give them the information they need to make informed nutrition and purchasing decisions on the products they buy for themselves and their families."
Many dairy industry folks do not think FDA's draft guidance is enough.
Here's what Jim Mulhern, president and CEO, National Milk Producers Federation, said in a statement.
"Today's FDA announcement is a step toward labeling integrity for consumers of dairy products, even as it falls short of ending the decades-old problem of misleading plant-based labeling using dairy terminology. By acknowledging both the utter lack of nutritional standards prevalent in plant-based beverages and the confusion over nutritional value that's prevailed in the marketplace because of the unlawful use of dairy terms, FDA's proposed guidance today will provide greater transparency that's sorely needed for consumers to make informed choices.
"Still, the decision to permit such beverages to continue inappropriately using dairy terminology violates FDA's own standards of identity, which clearly define dairy terms as animal-based products. We reject the agency's circular logic that FDA's past labeling enforcement inaction now justifies labeling such beverages as ‘milk' by designating a common and usual name. Past inaction is poor precedent to justify present and future inaction," said Mulhern.
The American Dairy Coalition (ADC), in a press release on Thursday, wrote "It has been a long five-year wait since former FDA commissioner Scott Gottleib said ‘almonds don't lactate' in 2018 when FDA called for public comments about their (lack of) enforcement of milk standards of identity in the labeling of fake milk alternatives."
Agree, almonds don't lactate. But I can remember as a little girl my mom purchasing coconut cream and coconut milk to make punch. Then there's also milk of magnesia.
The ADC said that any plant-based milk alternative product that chooses to make the nutrition comparison statement---again, remember, it is voluntary—will make that comparison against the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) fluid milk substitutes nutrient criteria, not with cows' milk. USDA's FNS sets specific levels of calcium, protein, vitamins A and D, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, riboflavin and vitamin B-12 for milk substitutes in federal feeding programs.
Now, here's something to take note of. At the same time the draft guidance was issued to plant-based milk marketers, FDA also released a "Consumer Update" in efforts to educate consumers on how to interpret nutrient labels, stating: "The milk section of the dairy case isn't what it used to be. Along with milk, there's a growing variety of plant-based milk alternatives. While many plant-based milk alternatives have the word ‘milk' in their name, the nutritional content can vary between the products, and many of them don't have the same amount of calcium and vitamin D, or other nutrients as milk. So, what should you look for when choosing plant-based milk alternatives? The Nutrition Facts label on the packaging can help you choose the best products to meet your nutrient needs and those of your family. to make their own choices when buying plant-based milk."
The onus is on dairy marketers. You need to do a better job of using labels to educate consumers.
Now things get fun…Mainstream media varied in their reporting of FDA's activity. The Washington Post likely ruffled a number of you up with this Thursday headline: "Sorry, Big Dairy. Oat and almond drinks can also be sold as milk, FDA says."
CNN wrote "Any plant-based milk product with the word ‘milk' in its name should include a statement explaining how the product compares with dairy milk. "In the future, the label on alt-milks could state ‘contains lower amounts of vitamin D and calcium than milk' or ‘contains less protein than milk.'
Here's where it gets really good.
"The guidance ‘assumes that cow milk is the superior standard. Might human milk not be a better standard?' inquired nutrition researcher Dr. Walter Willett, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School," as reported by CNN. "The requirement for the same protein content as in cow milk is dubious, as protein intake has not been recognized as a critical issue for children. If anything, the amount in human milk would be a reasonable standard."
To read more…and it is an informative read, link HERE.
Brody Stapel, president, Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, said, "Accurate labeling of imitation dairy products, especially milk, has frustrated dairy farmers for far too long. The nutritional benefits of dairy products are superior to imitation products, and consumers should be well-informed using proper labeling and terms. Dairy foods, including milk, are part of a healthy eating pattern and provide consumers with healthy and nutritious food options."
This is very true. But, like I said, many of you think it's not enough.
I appreciate ADC's comment that USDA's FNS nutrient minimums for milk substitutes does not take into account bioavailability of nutrients. I would like to point out that it also does not factor in protein quality. To read more about how dairy's superior proteins and how we need to better market them, link HERE.
Another person frustrated with the labeling of milk, specifically milk proteins not getting the respect they deserve, is Chip Marsland, CEO, Top Protein, Orlando.
"Move over plant based, cell culture and fungi, here come the first ‘dairy-based' alternative meats," he said.
In a phone interview this week, he said that the dairy industry has been fueling "life for centuries." But, it has also been void of any new technology since the patent issued in 1912 for ultra-high-temperature pasteurization. He plans to change that with his intellectual property that turns milk into filamentous materials that can be formed into structures that look like burgers, hot dogs, chicken and even scallops. With the assistance of natural flavors and a few other ingredients, he said these products replicate the taste and texture of muscle meat.
"Here comes the new field of ‘dairy-based meat,'" he said. "[These are] meats made from all-natural milk. One of the most nutritious materials on earth in addition to being ubiquitous. And it's a food source everyone is familiar with."
Top Protein is a startup protein technology company that has been stealthily developing this new category of alternative dairy-meats for four years. Top Protein's dairy-based meat portfolio includes whole cuts and shredded red and white meats. There are burgers, chicken cutlets, hot dogs, pulled pork, brisket, scallops and fish filets. There is even filet mignon. They are all made from milk. When necessary, butter is added as a fat source to provide desirable succulence.
"With a world population seemingly outpacing the available meat supply, Top Protein sees the need for real cost-effective solutions, not theoretical possibilities, and certainly not untested science. projects," Marsland said. "That is why the company believes dairy-based meats are the ‘bridge to the future.'"
The company is currently building a manufacturing facility in Orlando to service local restaurants and ghost kitchens, with the latter being popular among tourists through delivery services. Plans are to have a Top Protein restaurant, too. A retail format of the product is also in the works.
"With protein quality scores that blow away real meat, never mind the alternative meat competition," he said. "[We also have] a manufacturing process that produces no waste."
The liquid waste stream from producing the "dairy-based meat" contains residual protein, vitamins and minerals. Think of the stream produced during cheese manufacturing. Top Protein's research and development team uses that stream to produce ice cream and energy drinks.
I leave you with this. Marsland said that the technology makes one pound of "meat" from one gallon of milk. To put this in perspective, one beef cow yields about 450 pounds of meat, according to Marsland. One milking cow produces about 3,000 gallons of milk per year, which can be turned into 3,000 pounds of "meat." This can happen for a few years.
Just something to think about.