NFI applauds draft guidance on plant-based product labeling

A plate of a plant-based seafood analog.

The National Fisheries Institute has called the latest draft guidance issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on plant-based beverages and milk alternatives a “step in the right direction.”

The latest guidance by the FDA said labeling a plant-based milk product, such as oat milk or soy milk, with only “plant-based” is not sufficient, and the actual product must be included in the labeling. The FDA said saying a product is “plant based” does not exempt a producer from labeling a product with the actual source of the product. 

“’Plant based milk’ is not the common or usual name of plant-based milk alternatives,” the FDA wrote in its draft guidance. Moreover, omitting a descriptor of the particular legume, nut, grain, seed, or other plant source in the name of the food may be confusing to consumers, as the product would not be readily distinguishable from other types of plant-based milk alternatives.”

According to the FDA, consumers should be able to “easily determine the particular plant source” when looking at the label of a plant-based milk alternative.

“The nature or source of the characterizing or predominant ingredients is important information for consumers and should be included in the name or statement of identity to identify and describe the food and distinguish it from similar foods,” the FDA said.

The draft guidance added labels like “dairy-free milk” is also not adequate, as it does not descrive the nature of the plant source “and therefore does not distinguish the product from other types of plant-based milk alternatives.”

The draft guidance’s stance on labeling, NFI President and CEO Lisa Wallenda Picard said, is promising news for the seafood industry’s efforts on labeling plant-based seafood analogs. NFI has been advocating for years that plant-based seafood products need to be more clearly labeled, and products being labeled something like “vegan shrimp” is violating the FDA’s labeling guidelines. 

“Highly processed, plant-based products masquerading as seafood for too long have contributed to consumer confusion and openly flouted existing regulations,” Picard said. “Guidance for these products should mirror those now under consideration for ‘milk’ products.”

Plant-based companies like Good Catch have argued that in its labeling of products such as “plant based tuna,” the word “tuna” is being used to describe the nature of its product and that the labels meet the FDA guidelines, specifically the FDA Compliance Policy Guidelines for Labeling Processed and Blended Seafood Products Made Primarily with Fish Protein.

However the FDA taking a stance saying dairy-free isn’t enough, Picard said, bodes well for seafood companies arguing that “fish-less” or “fish-free” isn’t enough of a label on plant-based seafood analogs.

“We look forward to FDA releasing draft guidance for plant-based seafood alternatives that aligns with the structure it has applied to milk in this draft guidance,” she said. “Enforcing long-standing regulations and preventing consumer confusion is of paramount importance.”  

Photo courtesy of Novish


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