Plant-Based Institutions Fight for the Title 'Milk'

Soy, almond, flax, coconut, but none of them actually come from cows

Will we have to stop calling almond milk "milk"? 

Soy, almond, coconut, walnut, and even rice — what do these completely different foods all have in common? They’re all the main ingredient in a type of milk.

Milk is a loose term nowadays. There was a time when milk only meant one thing: the substance that comes from a mammal to feed its young. But now, with the huge variety of products on the market, you could buy three different types of “milk” and be buying three entirely different foods. Sure, they’re pale, creamy liquids. But should we really be calling them milk at all?

The Good Food Institute, a plant-based advocacy group, petitioned to the Food and Drug Administration on July 31 to continue allowing producers to market milk alternatives using the word “milk.” They’ve been asked the same thing for over 20 years — the Soyfoods Association originally submitted a petition in 1997 — but the term has continued to exist in a sort of regulatory limbo — clearly, since we can all still go to the store and buy flax “milk.”

The dilemma arises in the FDA’s own published definition of milk: “the lacteal secretion … of one or more healthy cows.” Animal product distributors and advocates, such as the activists at the National Milk Producers Federation, have been reminding the FDA of this delineation for over 20 years, fighting for their exclusive claim to the prestigious “milk” title. Producers of plant based alternatives, led by the Good Food Institute, argue that the FDA should officially allow use of the word so long as the origin — soy, almond, coconut, etc. — is clearly stated in the labeling.

The dairy industry takes a hard hit from sharing the title. According the Mintel Group, sales of dairy milk have already decreased by 7 percent in 2015 and are expected to plummet another 11 percent by 2020. In an industry already being criticized for their mistreatment of animals, this spells imminent danger for companies.

The Dairy Pride Act, a bill devised by the National Milk Producers Federation, has made its way into congressional debate but has yet to be passed. The Daily Meal has reported on the debate before, most recently in March.


What would we call almond milk, anyway? A title like “almond juice” would certainly make me rethink going back to dairy.