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Editorial: What is, and isn’t, milk?

The FDA is finally getting around to weighing the arguments of the dairy industry in considering whether to continue its passive role in allowing anyone who wants to label their drinks milk.

Published on November 8, 2018 8:22AM


You have to hand it to the makers of “milk” made from soybeans, almonds, hemp and other non-dairy crops. It was a stroke of genius to label their products in a way that would cause consumers to equate them with real milk. As in milk from cows or other mammals.

According to “The Agriculture Dictionary” by Ray V. Herren and Roy L. Donahue, milk is “the natural whitish or cream-colored liquid discharged by the mammary glands of mammals.” By that definition, soy “milk” and other types of drinks made from nuts and other crops would not qualify. It’s that simple.

The dairy industry has for years contested the fact that the Food and Drug Administration and USDA have allowed manufacturers of all sorts of drinks to call their products “milk.” Soy milk, rice milk, oat milk, almond milk, coconut milk, cashew milk, macadamia milk, hemp milk — even quinoa milk.

The problem: These descriptions are wrong. Faux “milks” have vastly different ingredients with vastly different nutritional values than real milk from cows or any other mammal.

Soy “milk” is no more milk than beer is “barley milk,” whiskey is “corn milk” and vodka is “potato milk.” Just because the makers may want to identify their product with milk doesn’t make it so.

It’s like a 5-foot-5 man putting on a LeBron James jersey and then trying to pass himself off as a basketball star. It’s just not correct.

Under the reasoning allowed by FDA and USDA you could label a bicycle as a “car.” After all, they both have wheels and transport people and the details don’t really matter.

There’s only one problem: It’s simply wrong to call anything — a drink, a substance or a mode of transportation — something that it is not.

This is not to say drinks made from soybeans or any other crop are not good, they just aren’t milk. Nor are they orange juice, coffee or banana daiquiris. They are what they are: mixtures of various ingredients, none of which is milk.

The FDA is finally getting around to weighing the arguments of the dairy industry in considering whether to continue its passive role in allowing manufacturers to label their non-dairy drinks “milk.” We hope the FDA finally starts doing its job in regulating these labels. If not, we’ll look forward to other manufacturers that will consider this a license to label foods anything they want.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to ponder the issue over a nice, frosty mug of “barley milk.”



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