Friday, February 17, 2017

“Can you please pass the soy creamer?”

Among the definitions for “milk” in The New Shorter Oxford Dictionary (Clarendon Press, 1993) we find: “A milky juice [like many lexical definitions, circular in construction] or latex secreted by certain plants, e.g. coconut milk.” And among the figurative uses of the word, “milk” is “[s]omething pleasant and (supposedly) nourishing,” the parenthetical qualification no doubt appreciated by dairy lobbyists. Finally, our dictionary defines milk variously as a “culinary, pharmaceutical, cosmetic, or other preparation of herbs, drugs, etc., resembling milk” [emphasis added]. Within the category of phrases, our dictionary cites “almond milk” and “rice milk,” and among several terms with “milk” in them we discover “milk stout” (‘a kind of sweet stout made with lactose’) and “milk-tree” (‘any of several trees having a milky juice’). Not mentioned is “mother’s milk” in the sense of something “absolutely necessary or appropriate,” not to be confused with the milk of a particular child’s own mother, although that can be equally characterized as absolutely necessary or appropriate!

Well, you get the picture. I doubt existing or prospective consumers of soy milk or almond milk are confused or misled by the labels on the growing list of “alternative to (dairy) milk” products, at least no more than they would be startled upon reading the entry on “milk” in our dictionary. Of course lexical definitions are not necessarily legally dispositive (cf. discussions of ‘ordinary meaning canons’ or references to ‘a new jurisprudence of dictionaries,’ in part inspired by the late Justice Scalia’s frequent cites to dictionaries).

Being—for sundry reasons—a vegan (I like to think that at least one motivation has something to do with the ‘milk of human kindness’) for close to seven years now (most of my adult life I was a vegetarian), it’s not surprising I wholeheartedly agree with Marion Nestle that The National Milk Producers Federation’s attempt to introduce into both bodies of Congress “Dairy Pride Acts” requiring “the FDA to rule that anything labeled milk, cheese, or yogurt has to come from cows,” has everything to do with “marketing, not science,” an attempt to (further) protect the dairy industry from market forces. As Anahad O’Connor writes in The New York Times,

“Facing growing competition from dairy alternatives like almond, soy and coconut milk, the nation’s dairy farmers are fighting back, with an assist from Congress. Their goal: to stop companies from calling their plant-based products yogurt, milk or cheese. Dairy farmers say the practice misleads consumers into thinking that nondairy milk is nutritionally similar to cow’s milk.

A bipartisan group of 32 members of Congress is asking the Food and Drug Administration to crack down on companies that call plant-based beverages ‘milk.’ They say F.D.A. regulations define milk as a ‘lacteal secretion’ obtained by milking ‘one or more healthy cows.’ Proposed legislation from Representative Peter Welch, Democrat of Vermont, and Senator Tammy Baldwin, Democrat of Wisconsin, a state known for its cheese, suggests a slightly broader definition. Their bill would require the F.D.A. to target milk, yogurt and cheese products that do not contain milk from ‘hooved mammals.’ ‘The bottom line for us is that milk is defined by the F.D.A., and we’re saying to the F.D.A.: Enforce your definition,’ Mr. Welch said.

But critics say consumers know exactly what they are buying when they choose almond or soy milk instead of dairy milk. ‘There’s no cow on any of these containers of almond milk or soy milk,’ said Michele Simon, executive director of the Plant Based Foods Association, a trade group representing 70 companies. ‘No one is trying to fool consumers. All they’re trying to do is create a better alternative for people who are looking for that option.’

And what about other nondairy products with dairy names? Will [M]ilk of [M]agnesia, cocoa butter, cream of wheat and peanut butter have to change their names as well?” [….] The remainder of this article is here.

See too Beth Kowitt’s article in Fortune, which begins by noting that “For 40 years, Americans have been drinking less of the traditional stuff—37% less since 1975, according to the most recent USDA figures.”

Incidentally, there’s a bit of irony in the fact that “[i]ncorporating soybeans and their byproducts in the rations for dairy cattle is a fairly common practice. They are an excellent source of essential amino acids and complement most forages. Depending on how they have been processed, soybeans can provide high quality degradable, undegradable and soluble protein, energy, fat, and fiber.”

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