Australia had fallen behind the US, the EU, Canada, Norway, Iceland and New Zealand in regulating the use of dairy terms, according to national advocacy group Dairy Connect today.
CEO Shaughn Morgan said consumers have the right to know clearly when they are not buying real dairy products.
He was commenting on a major editorial post by International Dairy Federation Director General Caroline Emond.
“A plant-based substance is no alternative to animal milk in terms of its composition, texture, taste and nutritional value,” she said.
“A liquid plant-based product that bears a resemblance to milk can be referred to as a white beverage. It is erroneous to call it ‘milk’. You can’t milk a nut.”
The US Food and Drug Administration’s plan to ban the use of the word ‘milk’ to describe plant-sourced products will help avoid confusion among consumers.
“The FDA defines milk as ‘the lacteal secretion obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows’,” she said.
“Based on this definition, it is clear that plant-based products are not ‘milk’.
“The move by the FDA follows the ruling by the European Union Court of Justice in June 2017 prohibiting plant products from being marketed as ‘milk’, ‘cream’, ‘butter’, ‘cheese’ or ‘yoghurt’.”
Shaughn Morgan said that in Australia plant-sourced products such as soy, almond, hazelnut, cashew, macadamia, oat, hemp, flax seed, quinoa, pea and rice are being labelled as ‘milk’.
“They are being marketed as alternatives to milk and dairy products to take advantage of the great nutritional reputation of dairy,” he said.
“Milk and plant-sourced products have different nutritional characteristics and therefore each of these products is not a substitute for the other.
“Some plant products contain protein, but the quality is not comparable to animal protein as they do not contain all the essential amino acids.”
Shaughn Morgan said dairy foods are excellent sources of calcium, vitamins B2 and B12, high quality protein, and carbohydrates.
“They also deliver minerals such as iodine, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus,” he said.
“In addition to the unique nutrient content in dairy, evidence is showing that there is a synergistic effect that demonstrates their health benefits.”
Caroline Emond said the IDF welcomes the US Federal Department of Agriculture’s decision to issue guidelines on the use of terms like ‘milk’ on both animal-derived and plant products in the interest of public health.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the department intends to look at these differences in relation to potential public health consequences.
“We must better understand if consumers are being misled as a result of the way the term milk is being applied and making less informed choices as a result,” he said.
The FDA is examining the issues because of cases where children who were fed non-dairy products developed severe forms of protein malnutrition and vitamin D deficiencies.
Shaughn Morgan said the work of the US FDA may create opportunities for Australia to adopt a similar approach.