FDA Re-evaluating Identity Standards for Dairy Products

"We intend to look at these differences in relation to potential public health consequences. There are reports that indicate this issue needs examination," FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said July 26.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is taking a fresh look at its standards that identify dairy products, its commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, announced in a July 26 statement. He discussed the importance of food labels and standards of identity to ensure foods have the characteristics that consumers expect.

"The FDA is committed to advancing policies that enable consumers to safely benefit from innovations in how foods are produced," he said. "Among other new steps we're taking, modernizing the outdated framework for food standards will allow industry flexibility for innovation to produce more healthful foods while maintaining the basic nature, essential characteristics and nutritional integrity of key food products.

The variety of plant-based foods marketed as substitutes for standard dairy products is one area "that needs greater clarity," Gottlieb explained. "Many of these plant-based foods use traditional dairy terms (e.g., milk, yogurt, cheese) in the name of the product. For instance, we've seen a proliferation of products made from soy, almond or rice calling themselves milk. However, these alternative products are not the food that has been standardized under the name 'milk' and which has been known to the American public as 'milk' long before the 1938 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) was established. In addition, some of these products can vary widely in their nutritional content – for instance in relation to inherent protein or in added vitamin content – when compared to traditional milk.

"We intend to look at these differences in relation to potential public health consequences. There are reports that indicate this issue needs examination," he continued. "For example, case reports show that feeding rice-based beverages to young children resulted in a disease called kwashiorkor, a form of severe protein malnutrition. There has also been a case report of a toddler being diagnosed with rickets, a disease caused by vitamin D deficiency, after parents used a soy-based alternative to cows' milk. Because these dairy alternative products are often popularly referred to as '‘milk,'’ we intend to look at whether parents may erroneously assume that plant-based beverages' nutritional contents are similar to those of cows' milk, despite the fact that some of these products contain only a fraction of the protein or other nutrients found in cows' milk."

will use a public process for reviewing its standards; it began the process of modernizing them by gathering stakeholder feedback at a Nutrition Innovation Strategy Public Meeting on July 26 in Rockville, Md.

"While dairy has received a lot of attention, there are many other standards of identity that need to be revisited and potentially modernized. After all, there are nearly 300 of these standards of identity on our books, some of which were created in my grandparents' generation," he said, asking for stakeholders' input on how modifications in FDA's standards can facilitate the production of more healthful foods and saying FDA welcomes out-of-the-box ideas.

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