Consumer Watch: Dairy debate calls use of the word 'milk' into question

Dairy debate calls use of the word 'milk' into question.

The word 'milk' is at the center of a nationwide debate, and dairy companies in Oklahoma are weighing in. When you are at the grocery store and are reaching for a gallon of milk, what are you actually reaching for? Current laws say that milk comes from an animal, but something like almond milk does not, and it's the use of this word that has the dairy industry demanding changes.

Many in the dairy industry want to change how easily you see the word ‘milk’ displayed on products. Current FDA laws identify milk as a byproduct from a lactating animal, and Randy Richison with Hiland dairy doesn't mince words when it comes to that definition.

“Almond milk is not milk and we would like the FDA to enforce the laws that are on the books about defining what is milk….we would really like to see the almond people milk an almond,” says Randy Richison, General Manager of Hiland Dairy Foods, Norman, Oklahoma.

This Hiland Dairy plant in Norman has been around since the 1930s. It produces about 400,000 gallons of fluid a week and 200,000 of sour cream and dip a week. Hiland reps say they, like many other farmers and dairy companies, are working with legislators and the FDA pushing for enforcement.

“Very simple, enforce the laws that are on the books. That is all we would like to see,” says Richison.

Though the definition of milk is clear according to the FDA, it has not asked milk alternative producers to remove the word from packaging. It is, however, important to note that milk alternatives often do not include the word milk alone. Instead, a seemingly new word is used, .as in ‘almondmilk,’ a single word. Many in the dairy industry propose milk alternative products use the terms ‘milk alternative,’ ‘drink,’ or even ‘juice’ depending on the product.

The new variety in milk alternative products, and other factors, have hit the dairy industry. Many companies, including Hiland, are expanding into creams, cheeses, and even milk alternative products to create a new source of revenue.

Fox 25 Consumer Watch reached out to the Almond Alliance of California for comment on the effort to ban non-dairy items from using the word ‘milk.’ The Almond Alliance, in a statement, called the move an “example of regulatory overreach and overkill.” Also saying that, “consumers are not confused by the labels of plant-based beverages.”

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