Meat- and dairy-like terms probably make labels less confusing easier for consumers, not more.
The position of the dairy industry is absurd and blatantly driven by economics self interest, not the interests of consumers. Plant milks, have existed for millennia, and the terms such as "coconut milk" are well established in the lexicon. https://viva.org.uk/health/why-animal-products-harm/dairy-products-health/history-of-plant-milks/
The plant milk industry should be campaigning for all milks to state their origin, i.e. call milk from cows, "cow's milk", not just milk.
Fabulous work as always, Hannah
I agree, these lobby groups are making a fuss out of nothing and wasting money that could be better spent elsewhere.
In reality, I think whether big dairy or big meat manages to successfully lobby for labels such as milk or burgers to be banned from nondairy/meat products will probably not make too much difference in the long run because these labels are already in the public nomenclature. It's a bit like Hoover, we have never had a Hoover product in our house but we have always called the vacuum cleaner a Hoover. Dyson may get the job done in a different way, but to us, it is still a Hoover.
Here's a thought, imagine a time in the not-too-distant future when most people prefer plant-based products, would big dairy then market their product as a cow drink, just like an oat drink, but made from dairy?
Thanks a lot for another great post looking at the evidence and data to provide context to a current discussion! (The whole inanity of the discussion becomes clear when looking at an example: At least in the EU, cow milk can be sold simply as “milk” (so anything that does not have a qualifier is cow milk). Goat milk can be sold as “goat milk” (so the source of the milk has to be specified), but oat milk cannot be sold as “oat milk”. But why on earth would consumers be able to understand that goat milk is not cow milk (and not buy it to pour it into their coffee), but be confused about “oat milk” and mistakenly believe it’s actually cow milk?! But even if, the mistake of drinking one’s coffee with goat milk instead of oat milk is arguably bigger... As to the nutrition argument, it would make more sense if labelling was based on actual nutrition values and not origin, and then at least (fortified) soy milk can fall within the range of cow milk. However, given that at least in Europe protein deficiency is not a real issue (but overweight is), using low-calorie (unsweetened) plant milks may actually better for public health than using fatty cow milk...)
Aren't these lobbying groups simply trying to suppress the popularity of what they see as a competitor? Competition by confusion, as it were, so that people play it safe and revert back to 'normal meat'?
How about we have a single universal symbol used across the globe that indicates plant based? No words, just a simple plant icon...
On a slightly more serious note, maybe the vegan food producers will respond with their own lobbyists to require animal based products have tobacco style scare labels on animal-based competitors’ products including photos of suffering cows attached to milking machines or pigs suffering in slaughterhouses. I would prefer freedom in labeling, other than a standardized nutritional information box which should include required dairy/meat/fish sections for allergic people.
Regulation of food labels is often political and silly. But what about consumers who are illiterate and depend on pictures? Will they not be able to distinguish between dairy and horticultural milks or beef and bean burgers that look similar? Canned vegetables and fish are now easy to distinguish but there may be disturbing surprises in the pet food or baby food aisles.
I wonder if the EU is more likely/able to entertain lobbying around specific word use because it is primed by things like the legislature around the use of Champagne and other regional food descriptors. In North America (Canada) we have distinctly less of that so the mechanisms to limit food word usage are also less or nonexistent.
Great post. I didn't realize plant-based milk products in the UK and EU can't use the term "milk" on their packaging. Having lived in the United States, if I were a tourist in the UK looking for oat milk in the grocery store I'd be amused to see it labeled "oat drink" and might wonder if it's the same product or not. Now I'll know!
There's an interesting history of substituting cheaper plant-based ingredients (specifically margarine) into dairy products (like butter). I haven't seen a study, but I'm guessing margarine has a lower environmental impact than butter, but also lower nutritional value (and maybe actually harms health?). So there's a bit of a battle there between sustainability and health, and seems reasonable to be careful about how margarine is marketed to ensure consumers aren't being deceived about what they are buying.
I presume that products like oat milk are better for the planet and for human health (at least in some regards) than cow's milk. As a consumer, I'd certainly prefer every type of milk to be clearly labeled. We already have nutritional labels, so for those who care it's easy to see what nutrition each type of milk provides. What's harder to know is the sustainability impact. Do you think it would be possible to develop a sustainability label similar to a nutritional label, for consumers who care about the environmental impact of their diet?
I am a modest plant-based eater. That means I eat what is on offer I guess and don't make a fuss. I add cream to my coffee in a pinch but it is a RARE occurrence. I like your writing a lot and always learn something -- wonderful. That said, I think this is a bit distorted. What are the realities? Allotments (ie. the amount of money in government support) to corporate food initiatives in the first world (US and Britain for example) are IMPOSSIBLY DISTORTED. The USDA spends about $40B in price and industry supports and <$30M of it for VEGETABLES! Most of this is support for meat and dairy and the feed the animals consume. A simple example. In the US we demarcate milk as fat by weight!!!! No other product is provided such special treatment. A glass of "delicious, nutritious whole milk is actually 40% fat). The daily council has created regulatory oversight that refers to 2% milk and 1% milk and skim milk. Whole milk is about 3.5% milkfat while the much loved cream for all sorts of uses is 36% milkfat (about ten times as dense calorically). It is tasty and makes scones and coffee taste great but is more akin to chewing on suet. Spending ratios are a useful way to assess bias I believe. The food system, especially in the first world is HEAVILY tilted toward big corporate interests that have fostered massive health and climate challenges around the world. Finally, if a given person is inclined to worry about climate, I believe the VERY BEST WAY to report food health to all would be assign the estimated number of units of energy REQUIRED to create a food versus the energy it delivers to our bodies. By this standard, with a ratio of about 10, meat and dairy are FAR AND AWAY the most damaging imbalance in the food system today. That is right, if we convert to the well understood calories, we BURN 10 calories of energy to create 1 calorie for the human to eat. The 2nd law of thermodynamics means the price we pay for the burning of the energy is about 3.5 calories of waste heat LOST FOREVER and trapped either in the atmosphere or the ocean. Consider that the next time you munch on a 100 calorie "nutritious" snack.