Don't call it soy milk, Vermont congressman says

April McCullum
Burlington Free Press
Rep. Peter Welch, D-VT, has written to the FDA asking that alternative products to dairy such as soy- and almond-derived beverages be banned from using the world “milk.”

Burlington, VT — A Vermont congressman is mounting a new campaign against the words soy milk, almond milk and rice milk.

Impostors, he says.

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., is asking the Food and Drug Administration to enforce the definition of "milk" — as in, a beverage that comes from cows — and require non-dairy drinks that currently market themselves as "milk" to find another name.

Welch argues that plant-based products using the name "milk" are freeloading off milk ads paid for by dairy farmers, such as the "Got Milk?" campaign.

“You have these other products that are basically free-riding on the advertising about milk and its specific, positive qualities," Welch said in a telephone interview.

The non-dairy milk products are misleading to consumers, Welch says, at a time when dairy farmers are struggling to make ends meet.

"It’s really salt in the wound," Welch said. He said soy beverages elsewhere in the world are labeled simply "drinks."

Welch was joined by Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and 23 other members of Congress from dairy-producing states in sending a letter Friday to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf.

“We urge FDA to enforce this matter by requiring plant-based products to adopt a more appropriate name that does not include the word ‘milk,’ ” Welch and the other members of Congress wrote in their letter.

Rep. Peter Welch, D-VT

The Soyfoods Association of North America, which represents soy milk manufacturers, also has sought clarification on the "milk" label, Executive Director Nancy Chapman said.

Chapman said her organization filed a petition with FDA in 1997 seeking permission to use the name "soymilk," which she said should always be written as a single word. The FDA never made a decision on the request, Chapman said, but a federal judge in California dismissed claims last year that "soymilk" was misleading.

People seek out soy milk, Chapman said, because they know it contains no dairy.

“It has been used worldwide and in the United States for nearly 80 years," Chapman said of the term.

Welch and other Vermont elected officials have mounted a similar campaign against fake maple products.