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Mayo, wings, butter: ‘Fake milk’ is the latest food fight

NEW YORK (AP) — Is “fake milk” spoiling the dairy industry’s image?

Dairy producers are calling for a crackdown on the almond, soy and rice “milks” they say are masquerading as the real thing and cloud the meaning of milk. A group that advocates for plant-based products, the Good Food Institute, countered this week by asking the Food and Drug Administration to say terms such as “milk” and “sausage” can be used as long as they’re modified to make clear what’s in them.

It’s the latest dispute about what makes a food authentic, many of them stemming from developments in manufacturing practices and specialized diets.

DiGiorno’s frozen chicken “wyngz” were fodder for comedian Stephen Colbert. An eggless spread provoked the ire of egg producers by calling itself “mayo.” And as far back as the 1880s, margarine was dismissed as “counterfeit butter” by a Wisconsin lawmaker.

The U.S. actually spells out the required characteristics for a range of products such as French dressing, canned peas and raisin bread. It’s these federal standards of identity that often trigger the food fights.

COW, NUT, BEAN

Though soy milk and almond milk have become commonplace terms, milk’s standard of identity says it is obtained by the “complete milking of one or more healthy cows.” That’s a point the dairy industry is now emphasizing, with the support of lawmakers who last month introduced legislation calling for the FDA to enforce the guidelines.

“Mammals produce milk, plants don’t,” said Jim Mulhern, president of the National Milk Producers Federation.

The federation says it has been trying to get the FDA to enforce the standard since at least 2000 , and that the lack of enforcement has led to a proliferation of imitators playing “fast and loose” with dairy terms.

Those products often refer to themselves as “soymilk” or “almondmilk,” single words that the dairy industry says is a way to get around the guidelines for “milk.”

The Plant Based Foods Association, which represents companies like Tofurky and milk alternatives, says standards of identity were created to prevent companies from passing off cheaper ingredients on customers. But the group says that’s not what soy, almond and rice milk makers are trying to do.

Those companies are charging more money, and consumers are gravitating toward them, said Michele Simon, the group’s executive director.

The FDA says it takes action “in accordance with public health priorities and agency resources.”

EDIBLE, BUT EGGLESS

The little-known Association for Dressing and Sauces showed its might in a 2014 mayonnaise melee.

The group repeatedly complained to the FDA that an eggless spread was calling itself Just Mayo, noting that under the federal rules mayonnaise is defined as having eggs.

Hellmann’s mayonnaise maker Unilever, one of the association’s members, had sued Just Mayo’s maker citing the same issue. That lawsuit was dropped after the company faced blowback from the vegan spread’s supporters.

The dressings and sauces group wasn’t the only one upset by Just Mayo’s name. The CEO of the American Egg Board, which represents the egg industry, also tried unsuccessfully to get a consultant to stop the sale of Just Mayo at Whole Foods.

The revelations led to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Soon after, the egg industry group’s CEO retired earlier than expected.

As for Just Mayo, the company worked out an agreement with the FDA to keep its name — with some strategic tweaks to its label to make clear it does not contain eggs.

STRAINING FOR YOGURT

It was a milk protein concentrate at issue in a lawsuit over Yoplait Greek.

That ingredient isn’t listed in the FDA’s standard of identity for yogurt. What’s more, the suit said General Mills relied on the ingredient to thicken its yogurt, rather than straining it the way other Greek yogurts are made.

“Not only was it not Greek yogurt, it wasn’t yogurt at all,” said Brian Gudmundson, the Minnesota lawyer who filed the suit.

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