Imminent release of ‘healthy’ definition and draft plant milk guidelines


The FDA – which previously announced plans to release draft plant-based milk labeling guidelines by the end of June, told us: “The FDA intends to release draft guidance soon, which is expected to be titled “Labelling of Plant-Based Milk Alternatives and Voluntary Nutrient Declarations: Draft Guidance for Industry.” The draft guidelines are currently under review by the OMB​ [which has a standard review time of 90 days].”

When asked when the FDA would define “healthy,” the agency replied, “The FDA has drafted a rule proposal and the rule is under review by the OMB.​” Separately, two studies – described here –​into a symbol that companies can use on products that meet the “healthy” definition will be conducted”in the near future“, added the agency.

Plant milk labeling

In some markets, Oatly is described on the packaging as an oatmeal drink. In others, like the United States, it is described as oat milk. Image credits: Oatly

While terms such as “soy milk” and “oat milk” are banned in the EU (where Oatly is an oat drink), they are widely used in the US (where Oatly is milk oats). And the FDA – critics say – fluctuated unnecessarily on whether these terms mislead or violate buyers. federal identity standards,that limit the term ‘milk’ to “milk secretionsof cows.

For example, the FDA questioned the term “soy milk” in warning letters to a few manufacturers in 2008 and 2012, but then maintained radio silence on the subject until then – the Commissioner of the FDA, Dr. Scott Gottlieb revived the debate mid-2018telling delegates at a conference in Washington that, “We have a standard of identity for milk ​​and I intend to enforce this… an almond does not produce lactation.

Gottlieb also noted, however, that there could be First Amendment issues to address and that the FDA could face legal challenges by suddenly banning terms like “almond milk,” after tacitly approving this. terminology on food labels for years.

A request for information issued in September 2018to solicit comment on the matter has generated a dizzying array of comments, with milk producers arguing that the word “milk”, even with the term “almond” in front of it, erroneously implies nutritional equivalence with the products dairy; while the Good Food Institute and the Plant Based Foods Association say there is no evidence that consumers are confused or assume that oat milk or almond milk should precisely match the nutrition cow’s milk.

The GFI told FoodNavigator-USA: “GFI petitioned the FDA in 2017​​ common sense regulation to clarify that compound names such as ‘oat milk’ and ‘almond milk’ are legal. Now would be the perfect time for the FDA to accede to this petition and fix this issue once and for all.

What is “milk”?​​

FDA Identity Standards define the unqualified term ‘milk’ as the ‘milk secretion, practically free of colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows.​​

According to plant-based brands, which typically use a modifier (eg, almond milk) and additional qualifiers (eg, dairy-free, plant-based, dairy-free) to specify that they do not sell cow’s milk​, these identity standards were designed to combat fraud and economic adulteration, not to prevent plant-based alternatives from referencing standardized terms (e.g., milk) in their marketing.​

Courts dealing with plant “milk” misleading advertising cases have tended to agree, arguing thatThe Federal Standard of Identity for Milk does not categorically prevent a company from naming food products with names that to understand the word “milk”.

For example, in a case against Trader Joe’s​,​​​​ Judge Vince Chhabria noted that the word “soy” before “milk” cleared up any confusion as to the contents of the package in question: “Trader Joe’s has not, by calling its products ‘soy milk,’ attempted to pass these products off as foods that the FDA has standardized (i.e. milk).”​​​​

As to the issue of nutritional equivalence, Stephen Wilson, the judge in charge of a false advertising case against Blue Diamond Growers (Almond Breeze) in California, didn’t buy the argumentthat the word ‘milk’ came with a certain set of nutritional expectations, adding: “If the consumer is concerned about the nutritional qualities of the product, he can read the nutritional label…”

What is healthy?

Food labeling rules have historically allowed “health” claims on foods containing 3 g or less of total fat and 1 g or less of saturated fat per serving (excluding fish and meat), with limits on cholesterol and sodium, and minimum requirements for nutrients to be encouraged (vitamin A, C, calcium, iron, protein or fibre). There are no limits on sugar – added or not.

However, the FDA revised the definition in 2016 after KIND Snacks challenged a definition of “healthy” that immediately excluded products high in healthy unsaturated fats such as nuts and avocados.

This resulted in tipsallow “health” claims on high-fat products provided they “have a lipid profile composed mainly of mono and polyunsaturated fats; or contain at least 10% of the daily value (DV) per reference amount usually consumed (RACA) of potassium or vitamin D.”

The FDA simultaneously issued a request for information from stakeholders on the use of the term healthyin September 2016, who prompted thousands of conflicting comments.

Dr Marion Nestle: “We will end up with many products that meet the definition, but are still junk food or ‘better for you’ choices”

Several commentators have questioned the value of exercise as a whole, including the non-profit food and nutrition education organization Oldways – best known for creating the Whole Grain stamp – which urged the FDAto strongly disagree with the use of the word “healthy”, since the overall diet determines health – not individual foods – and certainly not individual nutrients.

Even the FDA new direction​​​ “would have​​ always result in a food like brown rice not qualifying to be labeled healthy,”noted Oldways: “No matter what combination of nutritional criteria the FDA might impose as healthy, it is inevitable that a reductionist approach will result in efforts to game the system with fortified manufactured foods, while some whole, natural foods may not be eligible.​​​

If the FDA is to come up with a definition, she added, “Oldways recommends using it to highlight whole or minimally processed plant foods, which are particularly encouraged in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. ​​[including fruits, vegetables, legumes/pulses, whole grains, vegetable oils if mostly unsaturated, herbs and spices, nuts, and seeds] instead of tying the use of the word “healthy” to a nutrient formula. » ​​​

Dr. Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University, told us at the time: “The problem with all of this is that the criteria are inevitably arbitrary and easy to circumvent. We will end up with many products that meet the definition, but are still junk food or “better for you” choices. Healthier junk food may not be a good choice.

Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of and author of Read It Before You Eat It – Taking You from Label to Table, told FoodNavigator-USA: “Looking at an individual food item and affixing an icon that says healthy is like expecting an instrument to play the music of an orchestra.”

Saturated fat, sugar, juice, in the spotlight

Reading comments posted in 2017, most stakeholders agreed that dropping the total fat threshold made sense, but disagreed on saturated fat; while cholesterol also proved controversial, with the CSPI urging the FDA to maintain limits on cholesterol, while Unilever argued that “limit the consumption of[dietary] cholesterol is no longer a concern based on current scientific evidence.

Perhaps the biggest bone of contention, however, was added sugar, with some industry players such as the Cranberry Institute claiming that a ‘nutrient dense food’fruits like cranberries, which are sweetened for flavor, should not be skipped as they contain added sugar“, while the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics”strongly supports updating any “healthy” definition to limit added sugars. »

Juice also emerged as another bone of contention, with the CSPI saying the FDA shouldn’t allow “healthy” claims on fruit juices.,on the grounds that we should encourage consumers to eat “the healthiest form of fruit: the whole fruit”, while the Juice Products Association begged to defer.


The FDA’s healthy probe was triggered by a linewith snack bar maker KIND, which says rules requiring “healthy” foods to meet criteria for “low-fat” claims were outmodedbecause they exclude high-fat foods that we know are nutritious such as nuts and avocados, but include low-fat sugary foods.

The FDA agreed​ to reassess its terms of use for “healthy” nutrition claims, and guest public comment on issues such as:

  • What types of food if onlyshould be allowed to carry the term ‘healthy?’
  • What other words or terms might be more appropriate (eg “nutritious”)?
  • What do consumers mean by “healthy” in relation to food?

Image credit: GENRE


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