NPA: National Standard Needed for Plant-Based Food Labeling

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Washington, D.C.–The Natural Products Association (NPA) has issued comments to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) urging the agency to adopt a policy of enforcement discretion on standards of identity for products that use dairy names to describe plant-based products.

“Plant-based products, as long as they are properly qualified, like almond milk, soy milk, and nut cheeses, are understood by consumers, and there is no confusion as to the nutrient differences,” said Daniel Fabricant, Ph.D., president and CEO of NPA, in a press release. Dr. Fabricant outlined the history of use of these terms to describe plant-based products, noting that their use in recipes and manuscripts dates back to Roman times and medieval Europe. What’s more, Dr. Fabricant added, USDA has used the term “soy-bean milk” in educational materials.

“Does this standard of identity issue actually rise to the level of a public health threat that FDA must address it now?” Dr. Fabricant questioned in the NPA’s release. “I would think the Agency has more pressing matters at hand. If FDA has data to suggest it is an issue, then we are happy to discuss ways to fix it, but that evidence has not been brought to light.”

NPA also raised concerns about how this might impact any milk that doesn’t come from a cow. Under current FDA standards and formal definition codified in the federal regulations, NPA explained, “milk from any other farm animal would not qualify as ‘milk’ including camel’s, sheep’s and goat’s milk…if FDA plans to take on plant-based products using ‘dairy’ terms, are they going after goat milk products next because they are not the product of ‘one or more cows’ as per the definition in the codified regulations? Does goat milk need a disclaimer that it does not contain actual milk? That would be confusing to consumers.”

What is needed, Dr. Fabricant noted, is a federal pre-emption on labeling. “Federal pre-emption is necessary on standards of identity and other labeling issues to prevent trial lawyers from picking a different set of regulations to suit their case in a given week. We do not need a patchwork of various regulations coming from the states.”

NPA would continue working with the FDA on this matter, Dr. Fabricant added. “The government must prove there is a substantial risk to consumers. We are optimistic the FDA’s process will lead to an outcome that both protects consumers and ensures the producers of natural products and plant-based foods are not burdened with unnecessary regulations. We look forward to working with the FDA on this issue and submitting formal comments.”

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