Mar 20, 2017
What was once a curious, almost humorous bickering between different food sectors has turned more serious. Dairy farmers and lawmakers who represent them are advancing a fight to reclaim the use of the word "milk."
As fluid milk consumption continues its decades long decline, the growth of alternative milk products, notably soy and almond milk, has risen. The dairy industry is pressing the Food and Drug Administration to enforce a definition of milk as a lacteal secretion, which strikes me as an awkward marketing slogan at best.
Meanwhile, the non-dairy product industry is aware they also have a labeling problem. Plant-based beverage doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. So far courts have mostly sided with the non-dairy industry, reasoning consumers know full well soy milk doesn't come from a cow.
I tend to side with dairy farmers in this dispute, but I'm really not deeply invested. What I am wondering is what winning is supposed to accomplish. There is the faint but real possibility legislation reserving the word milk to dairy sources could impact other common mislabels such as peanut butter by setting a legal precedent.
But more than that, I can't find any information about how this the outcome of this argument might improve sales of cow milk. Maybe the industry has some research that is not public, but will forcing almond milk to change its name shift consumers to milk milk?
It seems to me consumers are actively making a decision away from dairy for digestibility, taste, and real or imagined health concerns. Is the rising visibility of this dispute good public relations for the industry?
I have no idea, but I hope dairy officials have gamed this out. I suspect that this naming battle is something that plays well with dairy farmers more than solves a marketing challenge. This pattern of fighting largely symbolic battles to unite or pander to members of a sector consumes too much of ag's time and attention, in my opinion.
It's disputed who said, "Academic politics are so vicious because the stakes are so small," but I think there is a chance this adage could apply in this case.