Dairy farmers push to change labelling on plant-based products 

Published: January 2020 

Pressure increases to remove ‘milk’ from non-dairy products, like almonds, leveraging milk’s nutritional qualities. 

A selection of dairy milk and plant-based products available on the Australian market. 
DAIRY farmers have been up in arms about it for a while – and now politicians are joining in. The federal National Party has backed NSW Farmers’ calls to stop plant-based products being called milk.

Delegates at NSW Farmers’ annual conference voted to restrict the term ‘milk’ to the mammary secretions of milking animals. The Association will now call on state and federal health and agriculture ministers to implement reform. 

Nationals politicians went a step further, voting at their federal council meeting in September to push for a ban on alternative and plant-based products using the terms ‘milk’, ‘meat’ and ‘seafood’.
Dairy farmers push for truth in labelling on plant-based products 

Australian Dairy Farmers and Dairy Connect have also called for “truth in labelling” for plant-based products. NSW Farmers’ Dairy Committee chair Colin Thompson says the problem is getting worse. 

“We have seen a growing number of plant-based products on supermarket shelves during the past decade achieving consumer marketing leverage using the name milk,” he says.

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“There is a place for the products, but they are hijacking the look and feel of dairy, while claiming to have the nutritional values of fresh cows’ milk.” Non-dairy drinks marketed as milk in Australian supermarkets include soy, cashew, almond, oat, hemp, rice and coconut extracts.

So what’s happening around the world? In 2017, the European Court of Justice mandated that dairy terms could not be used on plant-sourced products, even if clarifying terms were used. The following year, France legislated to protect dairy terms. 

Under current Australian laws, only milk from cows can be labelled milk without an added qualifier.

Cows getting milked at a dairy in Brombin on the North Coast NSW. Photography by Gethin Coles.

Speaking after the National Party passed its motion, its deputy leader and federal Minister for Agriculture Bridget McKenzie said milk was a single ingredient with no additives. 

“Whereas soy milk, for example, routinely includes a percentage of soy under 20%, along with added sugar, added oil, added minerals, added salt and added vitamins. We need to be very clear with consumers about what they’re purchasing,” she said. 

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“Accurate labelling isn’t about picking cow’s milk over an almond protein drink. There’s room for both. But, one thing’s for sure – they’re not the same thing.”

NSW Farmers has been lobbying hard for higher milk prices to help safeguard the industry and the dairy farmers doing it tough.

Fast facts on plant-based products

  • 8.3% Expected annualised increase in soy and almond milk revenue in five years to 2019/20.

  • Canada & France have laws prohibiting dairy alternatives being labelled ‘milk’.

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