FDA Seeks Information on Labeling and Consumer Use of Certain Plant-Based Products

September 28, 2018By Ricardo Carvajal

FDA published a notice requesting information on how consumers use plant-based products whose names include terms such as “milk,” “yogurt,” and “cheese,” and how consumers understand those terms when used in such product names.  The notice seeks data and evidence in five major areas, namely:

(A) the current market conditions and labeling costs of plant-based products;

(B) consumer understanding, perception, purchase, and consumption of plant-based products, particularly those manufactured to resemble dairy foods such as, for example, milk, cultured milk, yogurt, and cheese;

(C) consumer understanding regarding the basic nature, characteristics, and properties of these plant-based products;

(D) consumer understanding of the nutritional content of plant-based products and dairy foods and the effect, if any, on consumer purchases and use; and

(E) the role of plant-based products and dairy foods in meeting the recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines.

In an accompanying statement, Commissioner Gottlieb acknowledged FDA’s interest in supporting innovation.  However, he also flagged the agency’s concern that “plant-based products may not be satisfactory substitutes for all uses of dairy,” and that “some may not be nutritionally equivalent” – with potentially significant health consequences, especially for children.  FDA intends to take the information received into consideration in developing draft guidance that would “provide greater clarity on appropriate labeling of plant-based alternatives.”  In the interim, the agency can be expected to take action if a currently marketed product has a misleading label, so as to “ensure that consumers are not under the misconception that their plant-based beverage is a dairy product in disguise.”

Comments are due within 60 days of publication of the notice in the Federal Register.  Given the history of this issue and the stakes involved, we expect a very active docket.