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Australian Dairy farmers seek public support to stop plant-based alternatives from being called ‘milk’
August 10, 2017

What is milk? Is it soy, almond or rice — or does it only come from cows?

“When you think of milk you think of a white liquid that’s come from an animal,” Victorian dairy farmer Raelene Hanratty said.

She is one of many dairy farmers around the country who want to reclaim the word ‘milk’.

Ms Hanratty is supporting a new online petition being run by farmer lobby group Dairy Connect, to tighten the definition and use of the word milk in labelling in Australia.

“Anything that’s a plant-derived juice, I believe, is a substandard product that doesn’t have the qualities milk has,” she said.

The Dairy Connect effort has been encouraged by a recent European Court of Justice ruling stating “purely plant-based products cannot, in principle, be marketed with designations such as milk, cream, butter, cheese or yoghurt”.

In the USA there is bipartisan support for the DAIRY PRIDE Act (Defending Against Imitations and Replacements of Yogurt, Milk, and Cheese To Promote Regular Intake of Dairy Everyday), which would direct the Food and Drug Administration to clear up the definition of milk.

In Canada, laws already exist that prohibit dairy alternatives being labelled as milk, protecting the word as meaning “the lacteal secretion obtained from the mammary gland of a cow”.

After one of the toughest years on record for the dairy industry, farmers feel like their product has been devalued.

“Our milk products have not received the recognition from consumers that we deserve as farmers, for the time and effort that goes into producing them,” Ms Hanratty said.

“Consumers seem willing to pay $2.50 or $5 a litre for tetra pack crushed nut juice, but they are still only prepared to pay $1 a litre for good dairy milk.”

Who is confused about what is milk?

While there is little Australian-based evidence that consumers struggle to tell the difference between real milk and plant-based alternatives, they are confused about the nutrition benefits.

Even nutritionists are not united on a hierarchy of nutritional goodness, with some saying milk is unequivocally the most nutritious, while others say the alternatives measure up pretty well.

Tim McMaster, a dietitian with the Dietitians’ Association of Australia, told Landline last year consumers needed to be wary of plant-based milks being promoted as healthier.

“It’s not a straight answer,” he said.

“Cow’s milk probably comes out on top for nutrient quality. It has 10 essential nutrients that are fantastic for our health and our body.”

But nutritionist Tracie Connor said many plant-based milks were matching or exceeding the protein and calcium levels of dairy milk, 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.

Dairy Connect chief executive Shaughn Morgan wants all of these matters cleared up on the labelling.

“It will hopefully add a little bit more value to continuing to educate and have continued discussion regarding what is the most appropriate term for what are dairy imitation products,” he said.

Tough challenge ahead for farmers

Dairy Connect’s position is at odds with national dairy lobby Australian Dairy Farmers (ADF) and Victorian farmer group United Dairy Farmers.

Forcing plant-based alternatives to stop using words such as milk on their packaging would mean they would have to prove consumers are already confused about what is and is not a true dairy product.

Under existing rules, when the term milk is used on its own, it is inferred to mean cow’s milk, and if the milk is from other species or another source, it should be described as such (for example, sheep milk, goat milk or almond milk).

“The difficulty will be showing consumer confusion about this, and at this stage ADF does not have any evidence to show that consumers are confused as to the difference between cow’s milk and cereal and legume beverages,” an ADF spokeswoman said.

“Therefore at a national level, it would not be in our favour to pursue.”

In February, Victorian farmers voted for the dairy industry to “embark on an educational campaign to inform the general public that plant-based beverages [such as] soy and almond drinks, are in fact juices, not milk”.

 

Source: ABC Rural


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