The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has revealed it is on a fast track to look at the labelling of food and beverages that are being sold as substitutes for dairy products.
A request for information has been launched as the agency examines its approach to the use of dairy food names like ‘milk’, ‘cheese’, or ‘yogurt’ in the labelling of dairy alternative products.
The FDA said that these names are increasingly appearing in the labelling of plant-based products as part of the name or statement of identity of the product, for example ‘soy milk’ or ‘vegan mozzarella cheese’.
FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb raised concerns that the labelling may lead consumers to believe the products have the name nutritional profile.
“These plant-based products are sometimes packaged very similarly to those used for milk or yogurt, for example, and sold in the dairy section of grocery stores,” he said. “However, these plant-based products may not be satisfactory substitutes for all uses of dairy. And some may not be nutritionally equivalent.
“This can have significant health consequences – contributing to under consumption of key nutrients, such as calcium and vitamin D for which dairy products are good sources in the US population.
“The risk of under-consuming key nutrients may be heightened in children if parents substitute certain plant-based beverages for milk because children have less diverse diets than adults with fewer opportunities for other foods to provide those nutrients.”
The FDA now seeks help from the US consumers on how dairy-free products should be labelled through the request for information. It has asked the public to respond to questions such as: “What is your understanding of dairy terms like milk, yogurt and cheese when they are used to label plant-based products?” and “Do you understand the nutritional characteristics of plant-based products?”
Gottlieb continued: “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.”
Over the next year, the FDA said it will be looking at next steps, which will include issuing guidance for industry.