Milk is milk - whether it comes from a cow or an almond
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Milk is milk - whether it comes from a cow or an almond

First it was "fake news", now it's "fake milk".

A lobby group for New South Wales dairy farmers, Dairy Connect, wants a ban on the labelling of soy and nut milks as, well, "milk".

A turmeric latte with almond milk. Is anyone really buying soy and nut milk in the mistaken belief that they come from a cow? I don't think so. People drink plant milks precisely because they don't come from a cow.

A turmeric latte with almond milk. Is anyone really buying soy and nut milk in the mistaken belief that they come from a cow? I don't think so. People drink plant milks precisely because they don't come from a cow.

Photo: Penny Stephens

The group's chief executive, Shaugn Morgan, says the labelling restriction is needed to help consumers make an informed decision when buying milk.

But is anyone really buying soy and nut milk in the mistaken belief that they come from a cow? I don't think so. People drink plant milks precisely because they don't come from a cow.

The group points out that Food Standards define milk as "the mammary secretion of milking animals". If they want us to drink more of it they'd better stop calling it that: who wants a secretion on their breakfast?

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"Milk" is a lovely Anglo-Saxon word, rich in metaphor. Dairy Connect is welcome to their literal definition, but milk's associations belong to language and culture, not a lobby group.

They're trying to claim milk as a brand, but the word belongs to us all, to use as we please.

Next they'll want a trademark on it, for use only on authorised secretions.

Milk can mean something with the texture or appearance of milk. Lots of soy and nut milks have that. Plus, people use them in the same way.

What about coconut milk and coconut cream, as distinct from coconut juice and coconut water? What about the sunscreen called "toddler milk"? (No one tries to feed that to their toddler.)

In the US a group of congress members has written to the Food and Drug Administration urging action against the makers of "fake milk" who, they say, are damaging America's dairy industry.

In these Trumpian times, "fake" carries some heavy political baggage: are they saying soy milk is part of a lefty-vegan conspiracy against the things that once made America great (like drinking a big glass of cold milk with your dinner. When you're a grownup)?

It makes you think of the French restricting the use of wine names that once served to describe a style – like champagne or burgundy – to wines produced in those regions. Maybe there's something in that. But do we need DOC milk?

There's no confusion, no risk of passing off. Just another business group trying to corral a public good – language – for private profit.

Like coffee made with almond milk, it's just wrong, and must be strenuously resisted.