Milk Row Rumbles On As Leaked Emails Show Federal Agencies Clash Over Wording

Communications show the organizations could not agree on what terminology to use
Soymilk...or is it?

Is the US dairy industry's attempt to stop plant-based producers from using terms like 'milk' and 'cheese' to describe their products a farce?

In apparent concern for consumers, the dairy industry claims people could be easily misled by names like 'soy milk' - leading unwitting customers to buy products they don't really want.

Because of this concern, the industry has long been lobbying the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] to punish plant-based producers for using these nomenclatures.


Now a series of emails uncovered by The Good Food Institute reveals that the US Department of Agriculture [USDA] would like to use the term 'soy milk' in its communication and educational materials.

The Good Food Institute's Emily Byrd writes: "That’s because soy milk is precisely the term consumers are most familiar with and that best describes the product.  

"Put differently: It’s the least misleading term one could possibly use. And that doesn’t make the dairy industry’s motives look so great. 

"Instead of 'protecting consumers', the dairy industry is clearly trying to protect its own profits, at the expense of consumer choice and the expense of companies that are creating more sustainable plant-based alternatives."  

Milk must be a 'lacteal secretion' according to the FDA

'Lacteal secretion'

According to reports, the USDA wanted to use the term 'soy milk' for clarity. An advisor wrote: "USDA staff are preparing consumer publications and fervently want to use the term 'soy milk' because beverages are widely marketed this way."

But the FDA hit back, claiming it's not a 'trivial decision', and saying the federal definition of milk is a 'lacteal secretion' from cows, and so the use of the word to describe plant-based beverages would be inaccurate - a better term, it advised, would be 'beverage' - or 'fortified beverage'.

The FDA went as far as warning that the use of the term 'soy milk' would undermine its regulatory authority.

But the USDA wanted to use what it described as 'plain language' in its materials for the public, though it indicated it would used the phrase 'soy beverage' in official policy documents. According to sources, 2011 materials show it did use the term 'soy milk' in educational literature.


The National Milk Producers Federation says even other government agencies are confused about how to describe soy drinks, as demonstrated the USDA's use of the term 'milk'. 

The federation claims this is due to an absence of 'consistent enforcement by the FDA'.

The FDA declined to comment.


Now the GFI is petitioning the FDA to allow organizations to use the term 'soymilk'.

The Institute's Emily Byrd writes: "The FDA has been allowing companies and governing bodies to use the term soymilk for years. With our Official Rulemaking Petition, GFI is simply asking the FDA to codify what it’s already been allowing in practice." 

You can find out more about the GFI's petition here.


EU Court Says Plant-Based Products Cannot Have 'Dairy-Style' Names

'Plant Milk Should Not Be Called Milk' Say Dairy Industry Players

Plant-Based Milk Sales Skyrocket

Reuse this contentBack to top of the page
PBN Contributor:

Some of our articles are published as a team, which means the article has been produced by a collection of people rather than one author. If you have any questions regarding what is written above please contact us.

Since you're here...
...we’ve got a small favour to ask. Plant Based News is a FREE service that receives millions of views each week across Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, our weekly newsletter and this website. This takes a lot of our personal time, money and hard work. But we do it because we KNOW it makes a difference. If everyone who reads our reporting, who likes it, helps to support it, our future would be much more secure.

support our work

Join the conversation

Get updates from Plant Based News
For stories you need to read, in one handy email. Get our newsletter in your inbox every week.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form

You may also like:

May 4, 2017

Verdict in for Toronto Pig Save Activist Anita Krajnc: Charge Dismissed

Anita Krajnc, the activist charged with giving water to a pig, has had the charge against her dismissed

March 6, 2017

Keele Campus Hosts Virtual Abattoir

A UK-based charity has become the first animal protection group in the world to use virtual reality technology to transport people inside intensive chicken factory farms and slaughterhouses.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are prepared in the author's capacity and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Plant Based News itself. 

Follow us on social media: