The FDA May Start Cracking Down On Calling Plant-Based Drinks “Milk”

Health & Fitness

Photo: MITstudio / Shutterstock

Try to imagine a world where you can’t order an “almond milk” latte. According to a statement from an FDA regulator, that might soon become the reality—at least from a semantics point of view.

Earlier this week, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the agency might start cracking down on plant-based beverages calling themselves “milk.” The problem with calling it an almond “milk” latte is pretty nitpicky, TBH. Technically the official FDA definition for “milk” is a beverage that comes from the “milking of one or more healthy cows,” reports USA Today. So, while labeling a product soy “milk” isn’t doing anyone any harm, it’s technically wrong. For whatever reason, the FDA may now start cracking down on the technicality. “The question becomes, have we been enforcing our own standard of identity,” Gottlieb said. (Maybe regular milk is just jealous, considering the plethora of non-dairy nut milks that taste better than the real thing.)

Technically, the FDA is right: All your favorite plant-based milks—almond, soy, cashew, coconut, you name it—aren’t actually “milks” at all. After all, you can’t exactly milk an almond or a soybean. (Even though imagining them with tiny udders is hilarious.) But up until now, the FDA has let it slide. Because, well, why not? When you’re shopping for dairy-free milk alternatives, the label makes total sense and accurately describes how you use the drink and how it replaces dairy milk.

So, what does the FDA’s shift to becoming a stickler about milk semantics mean? Eventually, your carton of coconut milk will be labeled “coconut beverage” or something similar. But this will take awhile. According to USA Today, Gottlieb emphasized that the FDA can’t just expect plant-based beverage companies to trash anything labeled “milk” overnight. The FDA will likely notify companies about the crackdown and issue guidelines for labeling products correctly in a year, he said.

Of course, you can still personally call your plant-based milks whatever you want. Long live the almond milk lattes.

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