Should Soy Drinks Be Called Milk?

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Dear EarthTalk: Is the dairy industry really trying to stop soy milk makers from calling their products “milk?” They must feel very threatened by the preponderance of soy milks now available in supermarkets.

Indeed, just this past April the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), a trade group representing dairy farms, petitioned the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to crack down on what it calls “the misappropriation of dairy terminology on imitation milk products.” NMPF has been asking for such a ruling for a decade, and argues that the soy industry’s “false and misleading”labeling is now more common than ever.

According to NMPF president and CEO, Jerry Kozak, the FDA has let the issue slide so that the meaning of “milk” and even “cheese” has been “watered down to the point where many products that use the term have never seen the inside of a barn.”

Furthermore, Kozak adds, the use of “dairy terminology”on non-dairy products can lead people to think they are eating healthier than they really are, especially because non-dairy products “can vary wildly in their composition and are inferior to the nutrient profile of those from dairy milk.”

The website FoodNavigator-USA.com reports that on the other side of the Atlantic, the European Dairy Association (EDA) has also called for the term “soy milk” to be replaced with “soy drink”. EDA also suggests other options including “soy beverage”, “soy preparation” and “soy-based liquid”. It’s no wonder the soy industry isn’t quick to give up the milk moniker, given how catchy the alternatives could be!

Jen Phillips of Mother Jones magazine takes issue with the dairy industry’s sense of ownership when it comes to terms like “milk”, “cheese” and “dairy”. “The word “milk” has lots of uses and has been used for non-dairy milks like coconut for a long time,” she reports, adding that consumers already know that soy milk isn’t dairy milk. “Instead,” she writes, “the move to ban “milk”from non-dairy products is a transparent ploy by the NMPF to hurt the soybean industry that, thanks to increasingly health-conscious consumers and ethanol production quotas, is growing stronger every year.”

She also disagrees with Kozak’s claim that dairy milk is healthier than soy: “Actually, soy milk and dairy aren’t that different nutritionally, except for that milk is fattier” she says, explaining that a cup of vanilla soy milk has 30 fewer calories than a cup of two percent cow’s milk. And while dairy does have twice the protein, soy milk has 10 percent more calcium. “It’s a bit of a toss-up nutritionally, but I’m lactose-intolerant so I’ll choose the “milk” that doesn’t make me gassy and crampy.”

Phillips adds that since 90-100 percent of Asians and 50 percent of Hispanics – two of the fastest growing immigrant populations in the U.S. – are lactose intolerant, NMPF might want to think less about fighting soy and more about how they’re going to deal with people who can’t drink milk to begin with.

CONTACTS: NMPF, www.nmpf.org; FDA, www.fda.gov; FoodNavigator-USA.com, www.foodnavigator-usa.com; EDA, www.euromilk.org; Mother Jones, www.motherjones.com.

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Comments

  1. I’ve adopted Lewis Black’s philosophy on soy milk…

    There is no soy milk. Just soy juice. And the thought of “soy juice” makes people gag.

    So they called it soy milk, but we all know there is no such thing as soy milk, because their is no soy titty.

  2. Does it really matter what we call it? Real “milk” comes from an industry that insights terror and destruction to millions of cows. Who cares if the industries feelings are hurt by having non-dairy products named “milk”.

    I’ll drink almond MILK, rice MILK, soy MILK, hemp MILK and whatever other plant-based “milk” I like. I even sleep better at night knowing I didn’t just drink up the fluids of a deprived and tortured animal.

  3. Calling it “milk” helps millions of people understand the product’s intended usage.

    It is my firm belief that grain and nut milks will replace dairy milks in the human diet within the next thirty years. This will be due to environmental and health reasons rather than compassionate ones, but the end result will also be what animal rights campaigners have wished for: dairy farmers will transition to growing grains and nuts.

  4. I agree with Rob, completely. And if the use of “dairy terminology” on non-dairy products can lead people to think they are eating healthier than they really are, well, it’s because they ARE! Dairy contains more health-damaging ingredients than you can shake a stick at: hormones (naturally occurring and added), antibiotics, excessive protein, saturated animal fat and cholesterol are just a few. And besides, the term “milk” has been used to describe the “creamy” beverage made from nuts, seeds, and grains, since at least as far back as biblical times, long before there ever was a National Milk Producer’s Federation. Got coconut milk?

  5. The dairy industry’s complaints are, of course, ridiculous. But I do love it that the dairy industry is getting nervous about soy products.

  6. I won’t touch the soy or almond stuff personally, and I agree it’s not quite right to call it milk, but whatever.

    On an interesting historical note (sourced from watching the history channel, I believe), when Kraft first started selling his “american cheese”, regular cheesemakers were up in arms because the the process is different, and it wasn’t “real” cheese. They went to court to have Kraft rename his product from cheese to something else. Their suggestion for the product type name was “Embalmed Cheese”. Luckily that didn’t go over well, as nobody would have bought it. So on packages you’ll see “cheese food product”.

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