A huge 87 percent of consumers are not confused by the differences between vegan dairy alternatives and products made from cow's milk, according to a new review.
The study, commissioned by the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA), reviewed more than 7,000 public comments to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on the use of dairy terms for plant-based milks and other dairy alternatives.
The US dairy lobby wants to ban plant-based producers from using dairy-related words on their products, claiming this can mislead consumers into accidentally buying vegan products instead of traditional dairy.
In a bid to assess the labeling situation, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asked the public about its understanding of terms like milk and cheese when used on vegan products via a Request for Information last Fall.
"We're carefully assessing products currently on the market to determine whether any have misleading labels that would prompt us to take action to ensure that consumers are not under the misconception that their plant-based beverage is a dairy product in disguise," said FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb.
Dairy names, vegan products
Assessing responses to this Request for Information, the review found that 76 percent of submissions advocated for the continued use of descriptive dairy terms to be permissible for plant-based alternative products.
Only 13.5 percent of the reviewed comments wanted to see restrictions put in place when it comes to naming vegan products - about half of which (51 percent) were submitted by self-described dairy farmers. The remaining 10.5 percent were not conclusive in their opinion.
A clear message
"These results send FDA officials a clear message: do not restrict plant-based food companies from using words in the English language that consumers recognize and understand," PBFA's Executive Director, Michele Simon, said.
"Such a protectionist policy, which clearly has very limited support, would run counter to free market principles and the free speech requirements of the First Amendment.
"We have long maintained that this issue has been settled in the marketplace and the comments from consumers to FDA backs this up. There is no confusion. The FDA should abide by free market principles and not restrict plant-based foods to unfairly benefit the dairy industry."
The new data follows research released by October 2018 by the International Food Information Council (IFFC), which showed that fewer than 10 percent of US consumers believe that plant-based milks contain any dairy products.
According to the study, a further 75 percent know the vegan products do not contain cow's milk, and the remaining respondents are not sure. The IFCC says these results show 'a low level of consumer confusion over nomenclature and basic differences between the two'.