February 19, 2017 by Chris
Debate Over Non-Dairy “Milk” Labels Heats Up
In the shadow of the proposed DAIRY PRIDE Act, the New York Times weighs in on the labeling debate with an interesting article highlighting legal difficulties the dairy industry faces in its effort to prevent non-dairy producers from calling their product milk, cheese, or yogurt.
As author Anahad O’Connor explains:
Marsha Cohen, an expert on food and drug law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, said that the dairy industry faces an uphill battle. She said the government’s definitions for milk and other foods — known as “standards of identity” — are intended primarily to protect consumers from financial harm, such as being duped into buying cheap or imitation foods masquerading as more expensive ones. She noted that the F.D.A. recently allowed the company Hampton Creek to call its vegan mayonnaise substitute “Just Mayo,” even though the F.D.A.’s legal definition of mayonnaise states that the condiment must contain eggs.
The debate over what can and can’t be called milk already has played out in courts, with judges so far siding with the plant-based milk industry. In 2013, Judge Samuel Conti of Federal District Court in San Francisco, dismissed a proposed class-action lawsuit that claimed that almond, coconut and soy milk were mislabeled because they do not come from cows. Judge Conti said the claim “stretches the bounds of credulity,” and that it was “simply implausible that a reasonable consumer would mistake a product like soy milk or almond milk with dairy milk from a cow.” He said the lawsuit was reminiscent of an earlier case in which a woman claimed she was misled by Cap’n Crunch’s Crunch Berries cereal because she thought it contained real fruit (that case was thrown out).
In another lawsuit in 2015, another Federal District Court judge in California, Vince Chhabria, rejected a similar claim that consumers could be misled into thinking that soy milk and cow’s milk were nutritionally equivalent.
“A reasonable consumer,” he wrote, “would not assume that two distinct products have the same nutritional content; if the consumer cared about the nutritional content, she would consult the label.”