Australia's peak dairy farmer lobby group has joined calls for the word "milk" to be reserved for dairy products as the government takes a fresh look at labelling.
Australian Dairy Farmers has written to federal agriculture minister Bridget McKenzie and chair of the Ministerial Food Forum Richard Colbeck, requesting:
- a holistic review of labelling and marketing on non-dairy alternatives, including possible
- changes to the Food Standards Code; and
- the development of additional regulations to prevent plant-based alternatives from 'evoking' the qualities and values of dairy.
The call comes on the back of the recent ministerial forum inquiry into misleading descriptions on meat and dairy alternatives.
Minister Colbeck said the Food Regulation Standing Committee would deliver a paper investigating plant-based alternatives to dairy and meat products for consideration later in the year.
"In 2016, the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation considered a report on dairy substitute beverages and it was agreed by the Forum that the current naming regulations were adequate," he said.
"It is a requirement in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code for the inclusion of relevant additional descriptors in food names to avoid any consumer confusion- for example the word 'soy' must be included for soy milk."
ADF President Terry Richardson said false claims of nutritional equivalency with dairy gave plant-based products an unfair advantage, with a 2017 survey by Dairy Australia showing 54 per cent of respondents bought plant-based milk alternatives because they perceived them to be healthier than dairy milk.
"Australia needs to restore truth in product labelling so that consumers can make more accurate food and beverage choices," he said.
"We have seen a growing number of plant-based products on the market over the last decade, masquerading as milk when this is fundamentally not true.
"Products made from soy, nuts, coconut and rice are using the term milk in their title, but they do not even use milk as an ingredient."
A ban on plant-based products using the "milk" label would bring Australia into line with other countries, after the European Court of Justice in 2017 mandated that dairy terms could not be used on plant-based products, even with clarifying terms.
New South Wales farmer body Dairy Connect has been lobbying for such a ban since 2017 and its executive officer, Shaughn Morgan, said he was pleased to learn of the ADF's letter.
"It's good to see unity coming to the fore," he said.
Mr Morgan said Dairy Connect's representation at the International Dairy Federation had seen the establishment of a Task Force on Plant-Based Beverages but that Australia was well behind other countries.
"The US has the Dairy Pride Act and France has gone a lot further, enforcing truth in labelling for both dairy and meat substitutes."
Market research firm IBISWorld estimates Australia's plant-based "milk" product industry has grown at an annualised rate of 4.1 per cent over the five years to 2018-19, to $165.8 million today, while the dairy industry has declined at an annualised rate of 1.8 per cent over the same period.