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FDA announces draft labelling recommendations for plant-based milk

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced draft recommendations for the labelling of plant-based foods that are marketed as milk alternatives. The guidance has been developed in light of the large number of plant-based milks that have entered the market over the last decade. The variety of alt-milk products has also expanded beyond soy, rice and almond to include oat, cashew, hemp seed, pea, pecan and many other options. FDA commissioner, Robert Califf, said: “The draft recommendations issued today should lead to providing consumers with clear labelling to give them the information they need to make informed nutrition and purchasing decisions on the products they buy for themselves and their families”. The draft guidance, ‘Labelling of Plant-based Milk Alternatives and Voluntary Nutrient Statements: Guidance for Industry,’ recommends that dairy-free products that include ‘milk’ in the name and have a different nutrient composition to their animal-derived counterpart should “include a voluntary nutrient statement that conveys how the product compares with milk based on the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service fluid milk substitutes nutrient criteria”. An example might read: “Contains lower amounts of vitamin D and calcium than milk”. The guidance comes after the FDA conducted a study last year which found that almost all plant-based milks have lower amounts of four key micronutrients – phosphorus, magnesium, zinc and selenium – when compared with cow’s milk. Dairy foods are recommended under US dietary guidelines, which also include fortified soy beverages in this group, due to their nutrient composition being similar to that of milk. Susan Mayne, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, commented: “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. Food labels are an important way to help support consumer behaviour, so we encourage the use of the voluntary nutritional statements to better help customers make informed decisions.” The draft guidance does not apply to other dairy alternatives, such as plant-based cheese or yogurt. The FDA says that it is in the process of developing a draft guidance to address the labelling of other products.

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