'Milk' wars and truth in labelling

23 Feb 2017

This article originally appeared in The Australian Vegan Magazine and is republished here with permission.

Following in the footsteps of a US bill to stop non-dairy products being labelled as 'milk', dairy farmers in NSW are also pushing for "truth in labelling". Led by Dairy Connect, a dairy industry advocacy group, NSW farmers want the word 'milk' on "processed plant liquids" such as soy, rice, oats, quinoa and almond 'milk' removed from packaging.

The push has also been backed by producers of milk from camels, buffalo, sheep and goats who are "feeling cheated by the widespread use of the word 'milk' to describe plant-based liquid alternatives" which they say "aren't officially milk".

Dairy Connect CEO Shaughn Morgan says the use of the word 'milk' could confuse consumers and that: "plant- based beverages have certainly taken market share away from fresh fluid milk".

It's been reported that plant-based products generated US$1.4 billion in sales last year, with a 54 per cent sales growth during the past five years.

The push reflects a similar mood in the US where a New Mexico senator introduced a bill in Washington in an attempt to prevent products being labelled as 'milk' if they didn't come from a "lactating mammal".

"In the USA, the National Milk Producers' Federation characterises such labelling as a misappropriation of 'traditional dairy terms' and says that 'food labels should clearly and accurately identify the true nature of the food to the consumer,' says Morgan.

"These non-dairy businesses should not be permitted to represent their products as something they are not."

In response, Vegan Australia says they embrace the push for truth in labelling and that all labels on animal products should describe the suffering the animal has had to endure in order to create the product.

In a recent submission to a senate inquiry into the Australian dairy industry, Vegan Australia proposed that: "While Vegan Australia believes that the dairy industry should ultimately be phased out in Australia, in the intervening period the public has both a right and a responsibility to understand the realities of production of dairy products they consume. To this end, mandatory labelling of all dairy products sold in Australia should be introduced to educate the public on the effect of the dairy industry on animals.

Such a label should include the significant relevant types of suffering endured by the animals to allow consumers to make an informed choice".

Vegan Australia says labels should contain information such as:

  • The milk in this carton was taken from a dairy cow;
  • She had her horns removed without pain relief;
  • She is forcefully made pregnant every year;
  • She is a deeply maternal animal, but she is separated from her calves soon after birth, causing both great distress;
  • The milk she produces to feed her calf is taken from her;
  • She has been selectively bred to produce such a huge volume of milk that her health is compromised
  • She has a one in five chance of becoming lame, a very painful condition that can lead to early slaughter;
  • She has a one in 10 chance of getting painful mastisis;
  • She will be slaughtered after she is worn out at about seven years old, though she could live up to 15 or 20;
  • The male calves of this cow were taken to an abattoir at just five days old and killed; and
  • The female calves of this cow were raised to suffer like their mother as a dairy cow.

Vegan Australia says the lack of information about what the animal had to go through to produce the product is deceptive and misleading and may confuse consumers.

Vegan Australia is an animal rights organisation that campaigns nationally for veganism. 
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