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Would banning non-dairy beverages from using “milk” labels affect consumers?

Would prohibiting nondairy alternatives such as oat milk, soy milk, and almond milk from using the word “milk” make a difference to grocery shoppers?

Vermont Senator Peter Welch joined other lawmakers this week in criticising the FDA’s recent decision to allow plant-based beverages to continue using the term “milk.” The DAIRY PRIDE Act of 2023 is being pushed by Welch and others. Nondairy products made from nuts, seeds, plants, and algae would no longer be labelled with dairy terms like milk, yoghurt, or cheese.

Farmers and industry workers joined Welch at the Howrigan Dairy Farm in Sheldon on Friday. He claims that dairy alternatives obscure the true meaning of milk and cause consumer confusion. “If the term’milk’ is to be used, it must be used correctly. Milk is derived from the mammary gland of a cow. It is not a different product. Whether oat, soy, or plant-based. “Those are fantastic, but it’s not milk,” Welch explained.

But what about the general public? “I drink dairy,” Lydia Lacroix explained.

“It has to be cows milk all the way,” Paul Delabrurere said. “A cow gives milk. I milked cows for most of my life, so I understand what it’s all about. The other milk is a forgery.”

While some coffee drinkers dismiss milk alternatives, others see both sides. “I usually put regular milk in my coffee because it’s delicious. “And for smoothies, I’ll use almond for calories and such,” Natalie Rashie explained. “I’d probably call milk’milk,’ and almond milk a’milk substitute.'”

Dairy farmers like Joanna Lidback, owner of The Farm at Wheeler Mountain in Westmore, would be delighted. “I believe we have real milk. We have milk that has been lactated by mammals. “We have cows, and this is what they do,” Lidback explained. She claims that dairy farmers have earned the right to use the milk label and the associated market benefits, and that alternative products rely on the name as a marketing tool. “When other groups take advantage of that, you know, it’s offensive.”

Others see this debate as a sign that the milk market is changing. “These beverages have diffused themselves into the marketplace,” said Jane Kolodinsky, chair of the University of Vermont’s Community Development and Applied Economics department. She claims that when coconut milk first hit the market, there wasn’t much pushback on the name, but as the market floods with products, there is value in using the term for plant-based milks because they can serve as a viable alternative. “In that sense, these plant-based milks compete with dairy.”

Kolodinsky believes it is natural for dairy to be defensive, but dairy could also shake up its labelling by employing the same strategies as milk alternatives. She believes that the most important aspect for the consumer is clarity, so that they can choose what is best for them. “Consumers must use their market power as much as marketers do,” she says.

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