The Food and Drug Administration’s big bosses last week said the agency is going to permit various milk alternatives to carry milk labeling just like the liquid cows produce. The really good part of the FDA announcement was its “guidance” for consumers who get confused to check the nutrition labels when making their purchasing decisions.

As everybody knows, the FDA’s top boss wears a white coat and the rest have piles of advanced degrees, but when it comes to common sense, they don’t have much. They get to have the naming rights but without any responsibility for performance.

What happens when you send your 10 year old into the store for a half gallon of regular whole milk? In the dairy case, he finds milk and all its substitutes are grouped together. His head spins and he just grabs one that carries a “milk” label.

At home with the wrong product, FDA is responsible for the boy’s humiliation.

But such a common concern does not make it onto FDA’s radar screen. The FDA is willing to paint an entire marketplace with the “milk” label for products that now include soy, rice, almond, cashew, coconut, flaxseed, hazelnut, hemp seed, macadamia nut, oat, pea, peanut, pecan, quinoa and walnut-based beverages.

These products are made from liquid-based extracts of plant materials, such as tree nuts, legumes, seeds, or grains, and their producers frequently want them to be labeled as “milk.”

According to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf calling everything “milk” is “clear labeling” to give consumers “informed nutrition and purchasing” information on the products they buy for themselves and their families. 

The FDA Commissioner’s draft guidance, “Labeling of Plant-based Milk Alternatives and Voluntary Nutrient Statements: Guidance for Industry,” recommends that a plant-based milk alternative product that includes the term “milk” in its name such as “soy milk” or “almond milk” carry nutritional statements.

If different from dairy milk, there would be a voluntary nutrient statement that conveys how the product compares with animal milk based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service fluid milk substitutes nutrient criteria.

The ten year old going to the store for regular whole milk will have to study up for a couple of hours.

Milk is not the only area where so-called plant-based milk alternatives (PBMA) are going to use confusion as part of their marketing strategy. And FDA has no plans to help clarify things for consumers.

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