It’s time to put an end to misleading food labels in the dairy aisle at grocery stores, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) said last week in official comments submitted to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“Our farmers and ranchers depend on the enforcement of the current rules in order to protect their markets and effectively communicate with consumers,” said Daniel Heady, IFBF national policy advisor. “We all need the FDA to enforce food standards regarding the labeling of dairy products and prohibit the misleading labeling of nut- and plant-based food products as ‘milk’ or other common dairy terms.”

Wisconsin-based Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, one of the largest co-ops in the country by milk volume, said FDA enforcement of existing regulations that define dairy foods as originating from cow’s milk is long overdue and increasingly important as dairy imitation foods flood grocery stores and cause customer confusion.

“The number of plant-based products using dairy names on the label has increased dramatically in recent years. ... The lack of FDA action has led to an anything goes mentality in the marketplace,” the co-op said in its comments.

Labeling plant-based products to mimic milk, cheese, yogurt and other real dairy foods betrays the trust of customers who equate dairy with health and nutrition, said Dale Moore, American Farm Bureau Federation executive vice president.

“The reality is that consumers associate the word ‘milk’ with certain positive nutritional characteristics, characteristics that do not necessarily carry over to these substitute products,” he said.

Case reports have shown that feeding young children rice-based beverages resulted in a form of severe protein malnutrition, Moore said. A separate case reported a toddler being diagnosed with a disease resulting from vitamin D deficiency due to parents feeding the toddler soy milk. 

Farm Bureau recommends that FDA model its regulations on labeling rules in other countries such as Canada, the European Union and the United Kingdom, which do not allow dairy terms to be used on nut- and plant-based beverages, Moore said.

“In fact, to comply with the rules set forth in other countries, U.S.-based companies must change their labels when their products are sold in these markets. For example, ‘almond milk’ must be re-labeled ‘almond beverage’ in Canada,” he pointed out.