FDA's attempt to outlaw the phrase - "coconut milk".
Updated: Mar 26
For thousands of years islanders around the globe have gathered freshly fallen brown coconuts, husked them, cracked them open and made their daily coconut milk. Today many people who have never even seen a coconut tree add coconut milk, gathered from the supermarket shelves, to their smoothies, bowls and recipes. But not for long if a small group of politicians get their way.
Lobbyist and senators from several big dairy states have begun a legal battle, griping that “milk” cannot be sourced from a coconut, almond or any other plant. According to them what we modern coconut lovers are cooking with, is actually not milk at all. The milk producers federation has called for a nation wide crack down on what they call “dairy imitators” and, you couldn’t make this sound cheesier if you tried “cow-nterfeits”. They want officials to enforce the definition of milk in their favor, that it be derived solely from “the lacteal secretion obtained by the complete milking of one or more cows”.
In addition to sounding gross, that definition is going to be difficult to enforce considering the history of alternative milks. The 1797 edition of encyclopedia Britannica states that - "the emulsive liquors of vegetables may be called vegetable milks".
It’s a cry baby move from an industry in an already bad position. 2017, 18 and 19 were terrible times for American dairies, the worst in fifty years with three thousand dairy farms going out of business per year on average. Each year milk sales slipped about 7% and Dean Foods, the nations largest purveyor of dairy products recently filled for bankruptcy. While cow milk sales dropped, alternative milks took off. Rising two hundred and forty percent per year, with no sign of stopping or of ever giving back the huge chunk of the market share they earned.
But is the word “milk” really to blame? Perhaps an increasingly conscious public, armed with information from the internet has decided milk doesn’t do a body good after all. The newest generation wasn’t raised under the advertisement blitz of superstar athletes wearing milk mustaches. To millennials drinking a full glass of bovine secretion with dinner doesn’t seem like the best way to grow tall and strong, it seems foul. They’ve chosen to move away from factory farmed animal products, its cruelty, its hormones and are turning to plant based products for both health and ethical reasons, regardless of what they are called.
Big dairy doesn’t care, they want their milk money. Using considerable funds (dairy is the second largest agricultural industry in America) and political power buying power, they convinced thirty two congress members to draft a letter to the Food and Drug Administration, begging that plant-based drinks be forced to choose a different name, “nut juice” being a top recommendation. The FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb responded jokingly that obviously “an almond doesn’t lactate” but chose to take no action on their complaint.
So the dairy lobby hired some lawyers and took the nation’s largest co-opt producer of almond milk, Blue Diamond to court. The result, they lost. Big dairy’s cash cow seems to have been finally put to pasture. The phrase “coconut milk” is officially safe to use and an old adage has once again been proven right, that one shouldn’t cry over spilt milk.