Soy, Almond, Coconut: If It's Not From A Cow, Can You Legally Call It Milk? : The Salt Some members of Congress are calling on the government to crack down on food labels like soy milk or hemp milk. They say the "milk" label is legally reserved for only one beverage source: cows.
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Soy, Almond, Coconut: If It's Not From A Cow, Can You Legally Call It Milk?

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Soy, Almond, Coconut: If It's Not From A Cow, Can You Legally Call It Milk?

Soy, Almond, Coconut: If It's Not From A Cow, Can You Legally Call It Milk?

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Some members of Congress believe the term milk has spilled over into places where it doesn't belong. They want the government to crack down on food labels like soy milk, pistachio milk, hemp milk. The lawmakers argue that milk can only come from one source - cows. Here's NPR's Dan Charles.

DAN CHARLES, BYLINE: When Beth Briczinski walks down the dairy aisle in a supermarket, she gets really annoyed to see all those drinks claiming to be a kind of milk.

BETH BRICZINSKI: Soy and almond and rice - hemp, pistachio, macadamia nut, sunflower.

CHARLES: Briczinski is vice president for dairy foods and nutrition at the National Milk Producers Federation. These are the original milk producers, dairy farmers. Those other so-called milks, she says, are confusing consumers. For instance, she says, I was talking about this with some friends.

BRICZINSKI: At one point, someone said, well, the reason that they're allowed to call it milk is because it has the same nutrients.

CHARLES: That's wrong, Briczinski says. But that's exactly what those companies want you to think when they use the word milk. This week, a group of 32 members of Congress, many from big milk-producing states, wrote a letter to the Food and Drug Administration, calling on the FDA to step in and order manufacturers of plant-based drinks to find some other name because, as Congressman Peter Welch of Vermont points out, the FDA has a legal definition of milk.

PETER WELCH: There's a regulation. The FDA regulation defines milk very specifically as a product that comes from a mammary gland. So we're asking the FDA, basically, to enforce its own regulations.

CHARLES: To which Nancy Chapman, executive director of the Soyfoods Association of North America, responds with a question.

NANCY CHAPMAN: If you break open a coconut, what's inside?

CHARLES: That's right, she says.

CHAPMAN: Coconut milk.

CHARLES: The way Chapman sees it, this word milk has a very broad meaning.

CHAPMAN: You know, it's just a liquid that is a liquid taken from a particular protein source, whether you're a coconut, a soy, a cow, a goat - whatever, whatever, whatever - a buffalo.

CHARLES: This battle over words actually has been going on for decades. At various times, both the dairy and the non-dairy milk industries have asked the FDA to settle the dispute. But the agency, so far, has declined to take a stand.

Dan Charles, NPR News.

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