Almond milk

The US Food and Drug Administration seems to have soured on nondairy milk-alternative products that use the term “milk” in their marketing and labeling—like popular soy and almond milk products.

In a talk hosted by Politico, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced Tuesday that the FDA will soon issue a new guidance on the use of the term. But he added that products aren’t abiding by FDA policies as they stand now. He referenced a so-called “standard of identity” policy that regulates how milk is defined and should be identified.

“If you look at our standard of identity—there is a reference somewhere in the standard of identity to a lactating animal,” he said. “And, you know, an almond doesn’t lactate, I will confess.”

He went on to explain that the issue is that the agency hasn’t been enforcing its own policy or putting the squeeze on product makers—and that it’s time to get abreast of the labeling language.

But, he admitted, curtailing the wording of non-moo juice labeling isn’t an easy task because it means that the agency has to change its “regulatory posture.”

“I can’t just do it unilaterally,” Gottlieb said. Hence, the agency is putting together a new guidance for manufacturers to help skim the fat from the market. Gottlieb said the agency will soon tap the public for comments on the terminology and hopes to wring out a new policy within a year.

Such a policy will likely be warmly embraced by the dairy industry, which has cried over spilt milk profits, waning sales, and global oversupply for years. Last year, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) introduced a measure that would ban the use of the term “milk” for non-dairy products. But fellow legislators didn’t have an appetite for the beverage bill.

This isn’t the FDA’s first involvement in a dairy dispute. In 2015, the agency cracked down on the labeling of an egg-less mayonnaise-like product called Just Mayo. “The use of the term “mayo” in the product names and the image of an egg may be misleading to consumers because it may lead them to believe that the products are the standardized food, mayonnaise, which must contain eggs as described under 21 CFR 169.140(c),” the FDA wrote in a warning letter at the time. In that case, maker Hampton Creek Foods and the FDA worked together to whip up a new label for the condiment.