Should almond and soy milk manufacturers be prohibited from calling their products milk? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) seems to think so, but they’re wrong, because such regulations are paternalistic and breed corporate cronyism. The government isn’t your daddy, and regulators should remember that we’re all adults who can take care of ourselves.
According to a July 25 Morning Consult/Politico poll, 43 percent of adults believe that “[t]he label milk should not be used to market nondairy beverages.” Morning Consult and Politico apparently found this question worth asking after FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb suggested the agency may start cracking down on almond milk and its other nondairy friends for violating the FDA’s “standard of identity,” which defines milk as an animal’s lactation.
It should be obvious to all adults that almond, soy, and coconut milk are not the same thing as milk from a cow. We all probably learned as toddlers that cows, not plants, make milk. Regulators should not treat grownups like they’re children who need protection, or assume that the American people are really so stupid that they cannot understand that nondairy “milk” alternatives don’t offer all the same nutrients as milk from a cow.
In fact, the Morning Consult/Politico poll found that the youngest people polled, ages 18 to 21, were the least supportive age group of this paternalistic regulation. Only 28 percent of Gen Zers supported the idea that nondairy products should not be labeled milk, while 40 percent took no issue with such labeling.
This isn’t a surprise, as Gen Z has been called “possibly the most conservative generation since World War II,” in part because they tend to lean libertarian on fiscal issues. Young adults simply don’t want the government to treat them like children who can’t even grocery shop for themselves. In this health food-obsessed day and age, to think that consumers don’t scour labels and check for ingredients is mind-boggling, not to mention insulting.
Conventional wisdom suggests that conservatives would view government paternalism negatively, but the Morning Consult/Politico poll found that that more than half of conservatives polled favored keeping the word “milk” off nondairy labels. Liberals were somewhat less likely to support such a statement, with only 40 percent seeing a need to regulate “almond milk” out of existence.
Conservatives are supposed to believe in free enterprise and allowing businesses to market their products as they please. Instead, they’re falling for the talking points of the dairy industry.
And let’s be honest: the only beneficiaries of this policy would be “Big Dairy,” which has been pressuring FDA officials on this since October 2017. Large cow milk companies know that forcing their competitors to market “nut juice” or “soy-based nondairy product” creates a challenge for them, especially because consumers have grown used to seeing almond and soy milk at the supermarket.
To back up their position, the National Milk Producers Federation appeals to regulators’ sense of paternalism and claims that labeling a nondairy product “milk” is somehow too misleading to customers, even if the information provided on the package about its nutritional value is entirely correct.
FDA regulation of almond and soy milk, at the behest of their competitors, is crony capitalism, clear and simple. The FDA should ignore the dairy industry’s lobbyists and let the market do its thing. The dairy industry should focus their efforts on public information initiatives like Real Seal, an independent group that verifies products made from U.S.-raised cows with a red check mark symbol, and try to outcompete their plant-based competitors, rather than waste resources lobbying the government for a sweet deal or trying to trick consumers into buying more of their products.
The American people can tell the difference between coconut and dairy milk without the help of FDA regulators. Government agencies need to discourage this type of lobbying behavior that wastes both businesses’ resources and our tax dollars.