FDA Launches Draft Guidance on Plant-Based Milk Labels

On February 22, the FDA released a draft guidance on how plant-based milk products, such as oat or soy, should be properly labeled.

Plant-based milk alternatives (PBMA) have been popular among dairy-free consumers or those who enjoy the taste. Many opt for PBMA because they believe it’s healthier and more sustainable. Labels are a key part of food, providing consumers with important nutritional information. It allows an individual to choose products based on nutritional value to stay healthy.

According to the FDA, plant-based milk with the word 'milk' on the label should contain a nutrient statement describing how it differs from other dairy milk. For example, the label may say, "contains lower amounts of Vitamin D and calcium than milk."

"Today’s draft guidance was developed to help address the significant increase in plant-based milk alternative products that we have seen become available in the marketplace over the past decade," reports Robert M. Califf, M.D., the FDA Commissioner. "The draft recommendations issued today should lead to providing consumers with clear labeling to give them the information they need to make informed nutrition and purchasing decisions on the products they buy for themselves and their families."

In September 2018, the FDA asked plant-based milk alternatives (PBMA) to provide specific information on labeling their products. Although consumers understand PBMA does not contain dairy, many do not know the nutritional variation between regular dairy milk and PBMA. Almond or soy milk can contain calcium, but its comprehensive nutritional value differs from regular milk.

The Dietary Guidelines suggest dairy products, such as regular milk, provide health benefits and crucial nutrients such as protein, calcium, potassium, and vitamin D.

The director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Susan T. Mayne, Ph.D., concludes: "Getting enough of the nutrients in milk and fortified soy beverages is especially important to help children grow and develop, and parents and caregivers should know that many plant-based alternatives do not have the same nutrients as milk."

Mayne says, "Food labels are an important way to help support consumer behavior, so we encourage the use of voluntary nutritional statements to better help customers make informed decisions."

The FDA suggests companies use the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service fluid milk substitutes nutrient criteria to see if PBMA products have similar nutritional value to regular milk. Consumers can also utilize the FDA’s Nutrition Facts label to determine any nutritional value of a product.

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