Got milk? Based on the products that are found in the dairy section at the local grocery store, just about everything from almonds to soybeans produce the frothy fluid known as milk. When products made from almonds and soy are labeled as milk, they have a detrimental effect on the dairy industry. These non-dairy products should not be considered milk.
Milk is defined as a fluid secreted by the mammary glands of females for the nourishment of their young, according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary. However, many of the products that are currently sold under the name milk, do not match this definition.
According to Mintel, a London based market research firm, the non-dairy industry in the U.S. has grown 61 percent in the past five years. Because of this growth, non-dairy milk products are stealing from the pool of potential dairy consumers, resulting in financial losses for dairy farms that are already struggling.
Non-dairy milk substitutes are popular for a variety of reasons. Some customers choose to purchase dairy-free milk for health reasons. Others choose to purchase it due to a dairy allergy or lifestyle choices that keep them from drinking cow’s milk or eating other animal byproducts. While the latter reasons have merit, they still don’t explain the labeling conundrum. If a consumer is actively choosing to stray from the dairy market, it would only make sense that labeling should help them separate the non-dairy substitutes from those containing dairy. The ideal non-dairy label should be transparent and avoid using misleading terms such as the word milk.
While non-dairy products might resemble real milk, their nutritional value is not the same. Dairy products contain several nutrients and vitamins that sustain the human body such as calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and potassium. This combination contains many components of the daily nutrition requirements for the average person. The most popular non-dairy substitutes try to mimic the composition of the traditional dairy products, yet they require multiple additives to even get close. Calcium and vitamin D must be added to almond and soy milk products for them to be considered as a milk substitute.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research, in 100 grams of 2 percent milk with no vitamins added, there are approximately 3.3 grams of protein. In 100 grams of almond milk, there are only 0.42 grams of protein. With that in mind, it is difficult to see where the health benefits of non-dairy milk substitutes are found.
While there is nothing wrong with dairy-free milk substitutes, the labels that are used to described different products must be clear, concise and consistent to promote transparency between producers and consumers. Additionally, there should be a clear description of nutritional benefits and additives for both dairy and dairy-free products. It is important that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration take the labeling conundrum seriously in order to preserve consumer satisfaction and keep the dairy market strong.