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Mercy For Animals Opposes Restrictions on Using ‘Milk’ in Plant-Based Dairy Labelling

In July 2020 the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) released the Food Safety and Standards (Food Products Standards and Food Additives) Amendment Regulations, 2020. If passed, the regulations would prohibit the use of terms like ‘milk’ or ‘dairy’ on labels of soya milk, almond milk, coconut milk, and similar plant-based products.

Regulation 2(1)(i) defines dairy analogues as ‘an imitation product that is designed or structured to mimic, or offered as an alternative/replacement to, a milk or milk product or composite milk product as defined in these regulations by partial or full substitution of selected milk components with other components from non-dairy sources, or prepared by using non-dairy ingredient(s) exclusively or in combination with dairy ingredients.’ Regulation 2(1)(ii) specifically prohibits the use of a ‘dairy term’ for dairy analogue products. Regulation 2(1)(iii) provides for an additional logo that can exclusively be used on milk and milk products.

The FSSAI states that plant-based products do not fall within the definition of ‘milk’ according to regulatory vocabulary. But plant-based milk products have been sold in India for decades and are often used as replacements for bovine milk. In a survey conducted by the Good Food Institute India and Ipsos India, 84 percent of respondents considered ‘milk’ an appropriate term for plant-based milk products.

Mercy For Animals India Foundation submitted comments and a representation opposing the regulations. We highlighted four main reasons for opposing the restrictive labelling requirements:

  1. Regulation 2 (1)(ii) is without precedent, and similar applications have been struck down by courts in other jurisdictions. Similar labelling restrictions have been sought for plant-based products in the United States, and these have been struck down by courts in various states.
  2. Consumers can easily distinguish between plant-based milk and milk from cows or buffaloes, and the new regulation would likely result in increased confusion. Plant-based products often serve as functional replacements for cow’s milk and milk products, and they have long been recognised and used as such. Moreover, multiple surveys have shown that consumers have no confusion about the source of plant-based milk. In fact, consumers choose plant-based milk precisely because it is not cow’s milk, whether due to allergies; taste preference; or health, ethical, or environmental concerns.
  3. Regulation 2(1)(ii) contradicts the FSSAI’s objective of promoting plant-based eating. The FSSAI has undertaken a variety of laudable initiatives to encourage healthy eating in the country, including promoting plant-based foods as healthier and more environment-friendly. The amendment thus undermines the FSSAI’s important objective of ensuring safe, healthy, and sustainable food in the country.
  4. Regulations 2(1)(ii) and 2(1)(iii) are unnecessary and redundant. The existing FSSAI labelling regulatory framework already provides for any protection under this amendment. The FSS Act, 2006, provides adequate protection for ‘misbranded foods,’ and the FSS (Labelling and Display) Regulations, 2020, state that milk and milk products must declare that they contain milk and milk products. Hence, any potential deception or confusion would already be addressed, as labels for dairy analogues would have to mention if their products contained milk and milk products.

The demand for plant-based foods in India has been steadily increasing, and food companies in India have responded. In the past few months, Domino’s Pizza launched The Unthinkable Pizza, a vegetarian pizza with plant-based chicken. Baskin-Robbins, one of the biggest ice cream chains in India, launched two vegan ice cream flavours. The company CEO said, ‘Our introduction of new vegan flavours is an ode to the growing proportion of consumers that are opting to go dairy free either due to their health or lifestyle reasons.’ Early in 2020, premium yogurt brand Epigamia launched coconut-based yogurts that, according to the company’s CEO, were ‘only the first in a line of many plant-based products.’

As an organisation working to help create a food system that is healthy, sustainable, and kinder to people and animals, Mercy For Animals will continue to advocate a fair regulatory framework for plant-based products.