FDA plans to restrict almond, soy milk makers from calling their products ‘milk’

The FDA plans to start enforcing guidelines that would prevent manufacturers of products like almond and soy milk from using the word ‘milk’ in marketing and labeling.

The FDA plans to start enforcing guidelines that would prevent manufacturers of products like almond and soy milk from using the word ‘milk’ in marketing and labeling.


In a talk with Politico, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said his agency already has many federal guidelines called ‘standards of identity’ that dictate how various foods and beverages need to be manufactured in order to be marketed under a certain name. The standard of identity for milk, for example, describes milk as “the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows.”

According to Gottlieb, the question is whether the FDA has been enforcing its own guidelines.

“The answer is probably not,” he said. “An almond doesn’t lactate, I will confess.”

The announcement was likely well received by dairy farmers, many of whom have been calling on the FDA to enforce stricter interpretations of its guidelines for years.

“NMPF [National Milk Producers Federation] welcomed Gottlieb’s recognition today that the labeling practices of many plant-based dairy imitators violate long-standing federal standards,” Chris Galen, a spokesman for the group said in a statement on Tuesday.

In December 2016, 34 members of congress signed a letter to the FDA urging it to take action against the lactose-free ‘milk’ manufacturers, arguing that the use of the word is harmful to the dairy industry and consumers.

“As you know, dairy farmers are facing a serious financial crisis,” the letter reads. “These hard working Americans have experienced deep cuts in income as milk prices have plunged 40 percent since 2014.”


theimpulsivebuy via Flickr

Meanwhile, sales of nondairy milk alternatives, like almond and soy milk, have increased by more than 60 percent over the past five years. These products are staples of the vegan and vegetarian diets, both of which have become increasingly popular.

Dominika Piasecka, spokesperson for The Vegan Society, said the FDA’s decision was ‘unnecessary’.

“There’s no denying that the meat, dairy and egg industries are feeling threatened, and this is a desperate move to try to restrict the marketing of those cruelty-free products,” Piasecka told Newsweek. “Ultimately, regardless of what vegan alternatives to dairy are named, they will continue to enjoy growing popularity as more consumers are moving towards an ethical, sustainable and healthy vegan diet,” she said.

In any case, the nondairy ‘milk’ alternatives will have time to brace for the change.

“This is going to take time,” Gottlieb said, adding that he can’t do it unilaterally and that the agency would seek public comment on the issue. “It’s not going to take two years, but it probably takes something close to a year to get to go through that process.”

 

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Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.