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Milk is not Always Milk, Despite What the Label Says

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Milk is nutritious, natural, refreshing, versatile, a good value, plentiful, and one of the few food products never touched by human hands until it reaches the consumer. Yet, it is one of the most maligned, tested, regulated, legislated, and debated food products today.  Milk producers cannot agree on what federal dairy policy should be.  Consumers cannot agree if milk is safe to drink. The government cannot even agree on what should be called milk.  A radical, social activist even claimed that milk was racist and a symbol of white supremacy.  So, with all this baggage, why do so many products want to be called milk?

Soy Milk has been around for a while, but, in recent years, a whole new group of products calling themselves milk have appeared, including Coconut Milk, Almond Milk, and others.  Dairy producers have not been happy with this and have petitioned the FDA to prevent these non-dairy products from calling themselves milk. Several lawsuits have also been filed. But, to date, there has been no legal precedent or federal label requirement concerning what can be called milk.  International Dairy Foods Association president and chief executive officer Michael Dykes says the term milk on such a wide variety of products is misleading to consumers, “Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but dairy imitators do not naturally provide the same level of nutrition to the people buying them as milk does.” He added that non-dairy beverages “can mislead people into thinking these products are comparable replacements for milk, when, in fact, most are nutritionally inferior.”

Dairy farmers, whether cow, goat, or sheep, can get quite emotional about this issue knowing it takes a lot less work to get milk out of a soybean than out of an animal.  What may rankle even more is that some milk manufacturers are getting into the game.  Some companies are adding milk proteins to water to increase protein content. Does this mean H2O milk will soon be in the dairy case?

Last week IDFA did a flipflop and dropped their opposition to a mandatory label definition of milk. “This is an issue that needs to be resolved in the marketplace,” Dykes said. While as a free market advocate I am all for less government regulation, as a consumer I want to clarity and standardization on my food labels.  Milk should be an animal product and not come from a nut or legume.  There is enough manipulation in the marketplace today on food labels. For example, my daughter recently sent me a photo of a package in the Wal-Mart meat case with the label “chicken paws.” The pork industry has even been naming pork cuts after traditional cuts of beef.

No wonder consumers don’t know where their food comes from if milk comes from a nut tree, a steak comes from a pig, and chickens have paws. If some common sense is not brought to bear on the label issue, we will soon have no idea what we are eating.

By Gary Truitt