Are cows needed in order for a product to be called “milk?”

According to one federal judge in California, the answer is “no.”

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti tossed mislabeling claims against Dean, WhiteWave Foods Co. and WhiteWave unit Horizon Organic Dairy, finding that the allegation “stretches the bounds of credulity,” according to a report from Capital Press.

Conti found it “simply not plausible” that a reasonable consumer would be misled to believe that milk alternatives contained dairy milk.

“Under plaintiffs' logic, a reasonable consumer might also believe that veggie bacon contains pork, that flourless chocolate cake contains flour or that e-books are made out of paper,” the judge said.

Though the case was dismissed, Conti acknowledged that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has sent warning letters to “soymilk” manufacturers to notify them their products are mislabeled. However, Conti points that the FDA’s statements were brief and “far from controlling” because the FDA used the term “soymilk” itself in other public communications.

The judge said these names “clearly convey the basic content and nature of these beverages, while clearly distinguishing them from milk that is derived from dairy cows.”

Read more here.

Efforts to stop imitation products from milking dairy terms have been an ongoing fight. In 2000, the National Milk Producers Federation registered a trade compliant with the federal government, asking the FDA to end the “misuse of the term ‘milk’ by soybean beverage makers.”

“Although some non-dairy beverages may resemble cow’s milk in appearance, they are very different in nutritional value and composition from the standardized product” described in the government’s regulatory code. Soy beverages are nutritionally inferior to cow’s milk, often containing only half the protein per serving compared to real milk,” the NMPF’s petition, available here, said.

An additional letter was sent from the NMPF to the FDA in 2010, saying the terms “soy milk and “soymilk” have also expanded to other dairy-specific products, including yogurt, cheese and ice cream.  

“Consumers expect dairy products, like milk and yogurt, to contain specific nutrients. And, by extension, when they see a plant-based product with ‘milk’ or ‘yogurt’ in its name, they expect those products to contain protein, vitamins, and minerals that are equivalent to their dairy counterparts,” said Jerry Kozak, President and CEO of NMPF.

See, “Give it the right name.”