Dairy farmers are taking their campaign against “fake” milk products direct to consumers.
Buoyed by a European Court decision banning the word “milk” being used on plant extract products such as almond-based drinks, NSW-based dairy advocacy group Dairy Connect has launched a Change.org online petition.
The petition aims to sway Australian food and consumer product regulators to follow the lead of northern hemisphere lawmakers.
For almost a year the local body representing farmers, processors and dairy product distributors has taken a stand against what it sees as the hijacking of real milk’s good name and the nutritional benefits that name implies.
Its online petition calls for public support for the appropriate enforcement of consumer labelling of dairy milk and other dairy products, and of plant-sourced alternatives in Australia.
Plant extracts commonly branded as milk include soy, almond, cashew, oat, hemp, and rice drinks, while in the European Union soybean curd (tofu) is sometimes labelled as a “butter”.
Ironically, some false milk brands are actually processed and sold by major dairy processors.
National milk processor, Lion Dairy and Drinks markets the Vitasoy range of 30 plant-based “milk” products in Australia and New Zealand, produced by a joint venture business in Wodonga, Victoria.
Freedom Foods, which has a successful long-life milk division, including the popular Kids’ Milk range sold in Asia, owns the Almond Breeze and Australian organic “non-dairy milk” brands.
Although Australian sentiment against fake milk names is not universal among dairy industry groups, Dairy Connect has tapped a theme gaining considerable traction overseas.
What’s banned overseas? In June the European Court of Justice ruled "purely plant-based products cannot, in principle, be marketed with designations such as milk, cream, butter, cheese or yoghurt".
In the US solid political support exists for a proposed clear Food and Drug Administration law defending milk from imitations, including non-dairy yogurt and cheese products.
Similar laws already ban dairy alternatives being labelled as milk in Canada, also protecting the word milk to describe "the lacteal secretion obtained from the mammary gland of a cow".
That definition, in theory, also already applies to the official Food Standards Australia and New Zealand’s definition of milk - “a mammary secretion of animals”.
Dairy Connect chief executive officer, Shaughn Morgan, said a constantly evolving range of so-called “milk” products were vying for consumer attention.
“We’ve seen a rise in the number of dairy imitations made from plants and believe this has been the source of confusion among consumers,” he said.
Some shoppers now equated the great nutritional benefits of cows’ milk with plant drink alternatives.
“We applaud the European Court decision – plant-based drinks are not milk,” he said.
“In light of this, we’d like to see Australia keep up with the progressive dairy labelling laws in overseas markets.”
In an official response to the milk labelling debate Lion has argued its use of the name “milk” for plant extract products was “very much driven by how the consumer responds”.
“We see the consumer sentiment referring to these products as milks, and as a result, we are happy to use this term,” the company said.
However, Mr Morgan said fair trading laws and food laws in Australia required that labels did not misinform consumers with false, misleading or deceptive representations.
He urged the dairy industry stakeholders and the wider community to show support for dairy farmers by signing the petition and sharing the campaign.
A blitz on truth in milk labelling would give consumers a clearer distinction between the two product types, including potential presence of allergens or intolerances.
It would also provide more clarity about the formulation methods used in the two different liquid categories and ensure better consumer awareness about the nutritional variations between traditional fresh dairy milk and plant drinks.
The Dairy Connect petition is available at www.change.org/p/taking-a-stand-for-real-milk.
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