Status (4/13/21): PBFA submitted a letter in June, 2020 urging FDA to create a regulatory landscape that fosters innovation, specifically in terms of innovative ingredients, practices and processes for new products.

Washington, DC – A review conducted by Linkage Research and Consulting, commissioned by the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA), of more than 7,000 public comments to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on the use of dairy terms for plant-based milks and other dairy alternatives, found that an overwhelming majority of the submissions are in favor of allowing plant-based foods to use dairy terms on labels. Last fall, FDA solicited public input through a Request for Information to help the agency determine if any action is warranted.

Seventy-six percent (76%) of the submissions reviewed advocated for the continued use of descriptive dairy terms to be permissible for plant-based milks and other dairy alternatives. “These results send FDA officials a clear message: Do not restrict plant-based food companies from using words in the English language that consumers recognize and understand,” said PBFA’s executive director, Michele Simon.

Just 13.5% of the reviewed comments advocated in favor of restricting the use of dairy terms for plant-based alternatives. About half of these comments (51%) were submitted by self-described dairy farmers. “Such a protectionist policy, which clearly has very limited support, would run counter to free market principles and the free speech requirements of the First Amendment,” said Simon. While the remainder (10.5%) of the reviewed comments were not conclusive in their opinion about using dairy terms, most of these commenters expressed concerns about animal welfare, indicating sympathy with plant-based food companies.

Consumers Not Confused

Of those specifically identifying themselves as consumers, an overwhelming majority of 87% of commenters said they are not confused by the differences between plant-based dairy alternatives and products made from cow’s milk. (Less than 1% mentioned any risk of confusion.) “We have long maintained that this issue has been settled in the marketplace and the comments from consumers to FDA backs this up. There is no confusion,” PBFA’s Simon said.

The Plant Based Food Association (PBFA) has urged to the FDA to adopt policies that encourage innovation, not stifle it, and that will allow consumers to make informed choices. It is clear that the overwhelming majority of Americans who commented to the FDA agree with PBFA’s position. “The FDA should abide by free market principles and not restrict plant-based foods to unfairly benefit the dairy industry,” said Simon. PBFA has also taken the industry-leading step of introducing the first voluntary labeling standards for plant-based milk alternatives.

The third-party review was conducted by Linkage Research & Consulting. The firm’s review of 7,061 comments was taken from a sampling of the 11,903 publicly-available comments, representing 59% of the publicly available comments. There was no known bias in selecting the reviewed comments that have been analyzed to date; therefore, the presumption is that the remaining comments would yield similar results. Read more about their analysis here.