Milk producers with less conventional camel and buffalo dairy businesses are lining up in support of dairy farmers wanting to stop plant-based products being labelled as “milk”.
Dairy farmers in NSW are leading the push for truth in labelling for milk-styled products such as soy, rice, oats, quinoa and almond “milks”.
Their cause, which has drawn industry-wide support, reflects a similar mood in the US where a Senator from New Mexico has just introduced a Bill in Washington to stop products from being labelled as milk if they do not come from a lactating mammal.
Other US politicians are pushing the US Food and Drug Administration to crack down on “fake” milk alternatives.
Sunshine Coast-based camel breeder and milk supplier, Lauren Brisbane, said she felt it “pretty offensive and very misleading” to find an increasing range of plant or nut-based products being readily identified as milk.
“Milk produced by an animal has all the qualities needed to sustain life – it’s quite different to crushing a tonne of imported almonds and adding water and calling that milk,” said Ms Brisbane, a principal of QCamel, whose association with the camel industry began with an agriculture department job in arid western Queensland.
“These dairy industry guys are being pushed to the brink by ridiculous discount prices supermarkets force cows’ milk to be sold for and now retailers are giving extra shelf space to man-made products that are nothing like milk.
Ms Brisbane, who heads the Australian Camel Industry Association, said consumers were being misinformed by the use of the word milk, which implied a natural, nutrient-rich and healthy product.
Meanwhile, “real milk” products, including specialty lines like her own, risked being “swamped” by an increasing range of bio-engineered plant-based substitutes.
The Australian Buffalo Industry Council is also considering how it will take a stand to support dairy farmer advocacy body Dairy Connect’s lobbying efforts on behalf of “real milk producers”.
The Buffalo council’s Mitch Humphries, a former conventional dairy farmer whose Australian Dairy Buffalo Company now has about 1000 water buffalo in North Queensland and Victoria, is also frustrated by misuse of the word milk.
“You can’t use corn syrup and call it honey and you don’t expect margarine to be branded as butter - there’d be an uproar if that started happening,” he said.
“Concerns about milk substitutes hijacking milk’s respected name seem to be gaining increasing discussion.”
Much of the production from Mr Humphries’ and other buffalo dairy farms goes to making soft cheese and yoghurt, particularly Italian-style lines.
Consumer lobby group Choice (Australian Consumers Association) has acknowledged cow’s milk is usually seen as the benchmark for liquid nutrition, but the booming range of alternatives (at least 70) offered useful options for people with allergies or intolerance to conventional milk, or those avoiding it on ethical grounds.
A recent Choice report noted Australian dietary guidelines recommended up to three serves of milk products daily and anybody cutting milk products from their diet should be consulting a dietitian to get the most suitable option.
It identified some products such as certain almond milk lines containing extra sweeteners, and many were bolstered with calcium, while variations in nutrients and fat content were widespread.
“We don’t take a view on whether it’s called milk or something else, but having an alternative offering to conventional milk is a good thing,” said Choice spokesman Tom Godfrey.
Dairy Connect chief executive officer Shaughn Morgan said last week’s Brisbane Senate inquiry hearing into the dairy industry was alerted to the “milk versus non milk” issue, with Tasmanian Independent Jacqui Lambie being particularly interested in exploring options further.