Aussie Dairy Farmers Petition Against Labelling of Plant Based ‘Milks’

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Soy, almond, rice, oat, coconut, macadamia, cashew, hazelnut….whatever your tipple, none of us are under any illusion that these plant based milks are from mammals. In fact, there is really no confusion and many have opted for a dairy alternative for health, ethical and environmental reasons or simply personal taste.

Australian dairy farmers are the latest to oppose current milk labelling, claiming that plant based alternatives are in fact ‘juices’. Dairy Connect, a lobbying group consisting of national dairy farmers, is leading a petition to tighten the use of the word milk on product labelling.

The group has been encouraged to take action after the recent ruling by the European Court of Justice. The ruling found that German based food company, Tofu Town, were not following EU guidelines when it came to labelling their products. The company were selling products that included ‘Soyatoo Tofu Butter’ and ‘Veggie Cheese’ but the court ruled that these were confusing for consumers and as such the labelling will be changed.

The Court stated that, “purely plant-based products cannot, in principle, be marketed with designations such as milk, cream, butter, cheese or yoghurt”.

In the USA there is bipartisan support for the DAIRY PRIDE Act, a bill proposing that plant based derivatives cannot be labelled milk, yoghurt or cheese. The Food and Drug Association (FDA) has been called upon to end a two year battle between the dairy industry, it’s plant based competitors and a plethora of animal rights groups. We await the FDA’s decision.

In Canada, dairy is already protected by laws which prohibit plant based alternatives being labelled as milk, protecting the word as meaning “the lacteal secretion obtained from the mammary gland of a cow”. However, the industry took a major hit when the Government announced a draft food guide which eliminated dairy as a recommended food group on the grounds of health concerns.

Dairy Connect is hoping for a similar change in Australia but have already come up against a major stumbling block. Under current rules the term milk, used on it’s own, refers to cow’s milk, and milk form any other source (plant or animal) is described as such. For example, goat’s milk, soy milk, sheep’s milk, almond milk.

To stop plant based alternatives from using the word milk on their packaging, the dairy industry has to prove that consumers are confused by the labelling, demonstrating that they do not know what is a dairy or non dairy product. The national dairy lobby Australian Dairy Farmers (ADF), has said they will not be supporting the dairy industries claims.

“The difficulty will be showing consumer confusion about this, and at this stage ADF does not have any evidence to show that consumers are confused as to the difference between cow’s milk and cereal and legume beverages,” an ADF spokeswoman said“Therefore at a national level, it would not be in our favour to pursue.”

Prices for dairy milk continue to be pushed down by the purchasing power of large supermarkets, a reduction in production and high levels of competition. As such it comes as no surprise that dairy farmers continue to feel the pressure, but it seems milk labelling is not a solution to their problems yet. As consumers we are purchasing non dairy alternatives, often at a premium, so perhaps it’s time for more dairy farmers to start planting soy or almonds?

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