On Friday, September 28, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ("FDA") published a request for comment on the use of dairy-terms in the labeling of plant-based food products. Interested stakeholders can submit comments to the FDA until November 27, 2018.

The FDA first acknowledges the "emergence and expansion" of plant-based foods and beverages over the past several years, noting that many of these products use dairy-terms as part of the products' names and are often placed in or adjacent to where dairy products are sold in stores. The FDA then identifies its areas of concern, which are that "these plant-based products may not have the same basic nature, essential characteristics, and characterizing ingredients as their dairy counterparts and may differ in their performance characteristics (e.g., physical properties, flavor characteristics, functional properties, or shelf-life) such that they are not suitable substitutes for certain uses." Specifically, the FDA is concerned about consumers' understanding and awareness of the nutritional differences between plant-based products and dairy products. In pursuit of gathering information on this issue, the FDA is seeking comment, data, and evidence, about the following high-level topics:

  • (A) The current market conditions and labeling costs of plant-based products;
  • (B) consumer understanding, perception, purchase, and consumption of plant-based products, particularly those manufactured to resemble dairy foods such as, for example, milk, cultured milk, yogurt, and cheese;
  • (C) consumer understanding regarding the basic nature, characteristics, and properties of these plant-based products;
  • (D) consumer understanding of the nutritional content of plant-based products and dairy foods and the effect, if any, on consumer purchases and use; and
  • (E) the role of plant-based products and dairy foods in meeting the recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines."

In the request for comment, the FDA provides background on the legal framework for naming food products and sets out more specific questions in each of the above general categories. Interested stakeholders have until November 27, 2018 to submit comments to the FDA on these questions.

Alli Condra focuses her practice on food safety, labeling, and other regulatory issues in the food & beverage and restaurant industries, representing clients in matters with the FDA, USDA, and state and local food and agriculture agencies. Alli can be reached via email at AllisonCondra@dwt.com or directly at 503.778.5261.