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FDA Offers Draft Guidance for Labeling Plant-Based Milk Alternatives

Recommendations include a voluntary nutrient statement on packaging
Emily Crowe, Progressive Grocer
The FDA is offering manufacturers recommendations for labeling plant-based milk alternatives.

With the continued rise of plant-based milk alternatives, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is providing draft recommendations regarding the naming and marketing of such products. The draft guidance directly addresses the increase in market availability and consumption of milk alternatives, as well as the expanded variety of products available today, ranging from soy, rice and almond to cashew, coconut, pea, flaxseed, hazelnut, hemp seed and others. 

The FDA recommends that plant-based foods that are marketed and sold as alternatives to milk, and have a nutrient composition that is different from milk, should include a voluntary nutrient statement that conveys how the product compares with milk based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service fluid milk substitutes nutrient criteria. A label could say, for example, “Contains lower amounts of Vitamin D and calcium than milk.”

[Read more: "Plant-Based a Small But Growing Category: Report"]

The FDA received more than 13,000 comments after initially requesting information on the labeling of plant-based milk alternatives in September 2018, and later determined that consumers generally understand that these items do not contain milk, though many consumers may not be aware of the nutritional differences between milk and its plant-based alternatives.

“Today’s draft guidance was developed to help address the significant increase in plant-based milk alternative products that we have seen become available in the marketplace over the past decade,” said FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, M.D. “The draft recommendations issued today should lead to providing consumers with clear labeling to give them the information they need to make informed nutrition and purchasing decisions on the products they buy for themselves and their families.”

In an effort to support consistency across nutrition policies, the draft guidance recommends that manufacturers use the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service fluid milk substitutes nutrient criteria to determine if a plant-based alternative is nutritionally similar to milk. 

“Getting enough of the nutrients in milk and fortified soy beverages is especially important to help children grow and develop, and parents and caregivers should know that many plant-based alternatives do not have the same nutrients as milk,” said Susan T. Mayne, Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “Food labels are an important way to help support consumer behavior, so we encourage the use of the voluntary nutritional statements to better help customers make informed decisions.” 

According to the FDA, manufacturers can implement the recommendations in a draft guidance before the guidance becomes final. The organization will continue to accept comments on the draft.

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