'Childish' Plan To Stop Almond And Soy Products Being Called Milk

A plan to bar almond and soy products from being called 'milk' is "sad" and "childish", according to opponents of the push.

The federal National party has committed to campaigning for "accurate labelling of food and drink" in the booming market of plant-based substitutes for milk and meat products, but opponents have dismissed it as simply unnecessary.

"Will folks who make peanut butter have to change their packaging too?" said Joseph Ebbage, of the Almond Board of Australia.

"That's not butter."

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Minister for Agriculture Bridget McKenzie claimed plant-based alternatives were "trading off the health and nutritional benefits milk and milk products have", and said she would push for new labelling guidelines on the sale of these products.

The Nationals claim farmers are being disadvantaged by plant-based food. Photo: Getty

"At the moment, there's ambiguity and, I would suggest, deliberate attempts by some of these plant-based protein manufacturers to trade on the good, honest work of our meat producers or our milk producers."

Both France and the European Union more broadly have taken similar steps over food labelling.

McKenzie was backed by the Australian Dairy Farmers group, which accused the plant-based food industry of "misleading" and "dishonest labelling and marketing".

"They are co-opting the look and feel of dairy and giving the misleading impression that these products are nutritionally equal to dairy," a spokesperson told 10 daily.

"They don’t use milk as an ingredient, nor do they come from the mammary secretion of milking animals as defined by the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ)."

Should producers be able to call this 'soy milk'? Photo: Getty

But producers and supporters of plant-based food have rallied against the plan, saying dairy and meat industries were simply "scared" of losing money.

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"Consumers aren't in any way confused. If consumers are making choices in the foods they want to buy, that's the market working properly," Joseph Ebbage, market development manager for the Almond Board, told 10 daily.

"The word 'milk' is assumed to be from a cow, and if it's from another source, it has a descriptor -- goat milk, sheep milk, almond milk. Consumers should never be in any way confused."

Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie is leading the push. Photo: AAP

While some people may prefer such products for animal rights or cruelty concerns, a 2018 study found 86 percent of plant-based food sold in the USA was purchased by people who didn't consider themselves vegans -- meaning they buy the products for reasons of taste, diet or personal preference, not just veganism.

Ebbage said advertising boards had already tested similar claims. "With greatest respect to the Nationals, Australians are smart enough to know what they're buying," he said.

Dairy Farmers Australia cited research from IBISWorld that Australia's plant milk industry grew at 4.1 percent per year for the last five years, while the dairy industry declined 1.8 percent over the same period.

Emily Rice, spokesperson for PETA, claimed the Nationals push was "a little bit sad".

Does Australia need rules about when we can call something a 'burger'? Photo: Getty

"It's obvious meat and dairy are panicking, but they're resorting to childish complaints," she told 10 daily.

"The vegan revolution is here. A far better use of time and money would be if the Nationals pushed workers in those industries to transition out of unsustainable industries and future-proof their jobs."

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Rice said many other products, besides plant-based or vegan alternatives, used terms otherwise associated with traditional farming -- Christmas mince pies, filled with fruit instead of meat, or peanut butter, made of legumes instead of the milk used in ordinary butter.

"It's a very long bow they're drawing, it smacks of desperation," she said.

Ebbage agreed, saying "this doesn't make any sense, how is soy milk any different to peanut butter?"

Sales of plant-based alternatives are up, with lots more products on the market. Photo: Getty

Vitasoy Australia -- which produces soy, almond, oat and rice milk -- also shrugged off claims customers might be confused by packaging.

"It’s about providing consumers choice," a spokesperson said.

"Consumers enjoy the nutritional benefits of dairy and plant milk varieties – it’s not about avoidance, it’s more about variety."

Suzy Spoons runs a vegetarian butcher in Bondi, selling plant-based products including kale and cauliflower sausage, rosemary patties, and a pepperoni substitute made of gluten flour. She said she understood why dairy and meat producers may be peeved at plant-based products using their traditional nomenclature, but claimed any push to change labelling would have little effect.

Photo: Getty

"So the only thing is a sausage can be made of is a dead animal? But I do understand that complaint where products say 'vegan steak' or 'vegan chicken'," Spoons told 10 daily.

"The meat and dairy industry are perhaps scared they're losing their grip on the marketplace, because they're not the only players in there anymore. But it's a fair market and the proof will be in how people spend their money."

Spoons said she came from a farming family, and had sympathy for declining profits and other hardships on the land -- but disputed that the food labelling push was necessary.

"I don't think they're trading on the good name of hardworking farmers. I hear what they're saying, but I'm happy for it to be called 'milk', as long as it says 'almond' in front of it, because you use it the same way you use milk," she said.

"It's not stealing anything from farmers."

"If they change it, people will just sell it as 'mylk' or spelled slightly differently, and I'll just spell 'sausages' differently. But it's a major inconvenience so I'd rather not have to do that."