Dairy Alternative Labeling Debate Continues
As we previously reported, the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) filed a citizen petition with FDA in February 2019 requesting that the agency (1) enforce existing “imitation” labeling requirements against non-dairy substitutes for dairy foods and (2) codify FDA policies to permit the name of a standardized dairy food (like “milk,” “yogurt,” or “cheese”) to be used under limited circumstances. In particular, the petition proposes amending 21 C.F.R. § 101.3(e), FDA’s imitation foods regulation, to require the word “imitation” in product identity statements for non-dairy substitutes unless the product is nutritionally equivalent to the referenced dairy product.
On March 19, 2021, the Good Food Institute submitted a comment arguing against the petition, saying that the NMPF’s proposed regulation contravenes the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, interpretative case law, and current regulations on “imitation” foods and violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment. Specifically, the comment characterizes the proposal as “needlessly complex and protectionist” and emphasizes its view that plant-based products are not “imitation” products that claim nutritional equivalence under current regulations but are instead alternative or substitute products, using the example that cow’s milk is to soy milk as is canola oil to soybean oil.
In addition to a handful of consumer comments, the Plant Based Foods Association had filed a comment also advocating against the amendments proposed by NMPF. Other industry stakeholders had filed comments, which we summarized here, regarding nomenclature concerns with plant-based dairy alternatives in response to an FDA Request for Comments in early 2019.
FDA has not yet responded to the comments it received on its 2019 request or NMPF’s citizen petition. We will continue to monitor this issue and report on any developments.