Soy and Nut Milks Can Still Be Called 'Milk,' FDA Says

Consumers can tell the difference between plant-based beverages labeled as milk and dairy milk, the FDA says.

Nina Raemont Writer
A recent graduate of the University of Minnesota, Nina started at CNET writing breaking news stories before shifting to covering Security Security and other government benefit programs. In her spare time, she's in her kitchen, trying a new baking recipe.
Nina Raemont
A glass of oat milk flanked by an old-fashioned glass milk bottle full of the milk and a wooden spoon overflowing with rolled oats.

That oat beverage? It's milk. Well, oat milk anyway.

Getty Images

Plant-based milk alternatives can keep calling themselves "milk," the US Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday. 

The agency commissioned and conducted focus groups and found that the term "milk" is "strongly rooted in consumers' vocabulary when describing and talking about plant-based alternatives," the FDA said in draft guidance

Consumers are aware that plant-based milks are different from dairy milks, research found. They also use the plant-based alternatives in the same way people use dairy milks: in cereals, coffee and more.

"Although many plant-based milk alternatives are labeled with names that bear the term 'milk' (e.g., 'soy milk'), they do not purport to be nor are they represented as milk," the FDA said.

Some in the dairy industry have argued that it's misleading to label plant-based milk alternatives as "milk." There have also been several lawsuits during the past decade over how to accurately label almond, soy and other dairy milk alternatives. 

The FDA advised producers of plant-based milk to label their products with "voluntary nutrient statements" on how the alternative differs from dairy milk.

"Consumer studies indicate that, in general, while consumers do not understand the nutritional differences between plant-based milk alternatives and milk, they believe plant-based milk alternatives are healthier than milk and expect that products labeled with the term 'milk' in the name are comparable in nutrition to milk," the FDA said.

Though the additional nutrient information is voluntary, it's meant to inform consumers on how the products differ even as plant-based milk is labeled as a dairy substitute. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.