Every day, more milk drinkers are switching to almond, soy, oat and rice alternatives for a creamy coffee blend, leaving behind traditional cow’s milk.
But in a market that offers so many choices, what exactly constitutes milk?
The labelling of plant-based milk alternatives is being protested by agricultural advocacy group Dairy Connect, which argues the products are confusing consumers.
The push is being backed by farmers of camel, buffalo, sheep and goat milk, who agree the term “milk” is misleading, deceptive and harmful to the dairy industry.
Following in the footsteps of a similar bill in the United States, the NSW-based lobby group is calling for a “truth in labelling” law to stop companies from using the ambiguous term.
Glasses of cows milk, soy milk and almond milk in front of their containers.
PHOTO: Dairy Connect said consumers were confused by the different milks. (ABC News: Julia Sansone)
Plant-based products generated $US1.4 billion in sales in America last year, with 54 per cent sales growth during the past five years.
Dairy Connect chief executive Shaughn Morgan said the definition in the Food Standards Code was not adequately being enforced or talked about.
“The code itself is quite clear, but if it were to be enforced by the Government, then it would be something consumers would be willing to accept,” he said.
“If a consumer is walking down the supermarket aisle and sees a soy or almond product that is called ‘milk’, they may falsely believe that they are helping the dairy industry.”
Standard 2.5.1 of the Food Standards Code defines milk as “the mammary secretion of milking animals”.
However, the code allows non-animal products to use the term, providing the context ensures consumers are not misled.
“What we are advocating is for an informed, robust debate about what is the most appropriate name for these products, so consumers are not mistaken,” he said.
“There are no udders on an almond. There is on a cow, but not on a plant-based product.”
Supermarket shelf of rice, soy and almond boxes.
PHOTO: Rice, soy and almond are just three examples of the many milk plant-based alternatives. (ABC News: Julia Sansone)
Consumers confused by choices
Nutritionist Tracie Connor said many plant-based milks were matching or exceeding the protein and calcium levels of dairy milks, posing a threat to an already fragile dairy industry.
“What I believe people are most confused about, is what drink is best suited to achieve optimal health,” she said.
“There are too many choices and it leaves many confused. Education is the key here, not name changes.”
Part of the argument surrounding the re-labelling of plant-based milks is the nutritional content of these substances.
Almond milk, for example, only contains 2 per cent almonds, with the main ingredient listed as “filtered water”.
Michael McNulty from Almond Breeze Australia said the company had experienced double-digit growth since launching in 2012 and overtaken soy products in retail sales.
“Australian consumers told us that they wanted a taste which complements everyday foods and use … rather than a strong dominating nutty taste,” he said.
“One serve of almond milk will provide up to 23 per cent of the daily recommended intake of calcium.”
Dairy Connect believes it is as simple as giving these plant-based liquids another title, such as water or juice, to ease pressure on both consumers and farmers.
“We aren’t saying people shouldn’t have access to these products … indeed they should,” Mr Morgan said.
“But it’s about going down to the back of the supermarket, looking into the fridge, and choosing what we consider to be the correct, very nutritional product.”
Article originally featured on ABC online: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-05-04/truth-labelling-plant-based-milk-alternatives-soy-almond/8494614