Should Soy Milk be Called Milk?

Traditionally, many people have thought of milk as something that comes from a cow, sheep or goat. However, brands now label other products as “milk”. Soy milk is one of these products. 

There is obviously a difference between dairy milk and soy milk. Does this mean that brands should not call soy milk “milk”? If you look in the dictionary, there is more than one definition of “milk”. It is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as;

“The white liquid produced by cows, goats, and sheep and used by humans as a drink or for making butter, cheese, etc.”

and as;

“The white liquid produced by some plants and trees.”

So, does soy milk satisfy the second of these definitions?

What is soy milk? 

Soy milk is a drink that producers create by soaking and grinding soybeans. They then boil the mixture, to get rid of particulates. Soy milk is a byproduct when producers create tofu. Since producers in Asia created the first soy milk, in the 20th century, production techniques have improved the product. 

It seems that soy milk does fit one dictionary definition of the word “milk” because it’s a plant product. However, the discussion is more complex than this. To take a closer look, it’s a good idea to start by looking at why people drink soy milk in the first place. 

 

Why do people drink soy milk?

There is a difference between milk and soy milk  which makes soy milk a better choice for some people. This difference is that soy milk is not a dairy product; it’s a plant based product. Plant based milks, as they are usually called, do not contain lactose. This means that they are a good choice for people who suffer with lactose intolerance. 

Both dairy products and soy milk are a good source of protein. However, some traditional milk products are high in saturated fat. This is why people who suffer with problems such as heart disease or breast cancer follow medical advice to look for traditional dairy products with reduced fat levels or choose to use products like soy milk. 

Controversy over the name “soy milk”

Despite the fact that the dictionary seems to confirm that soymilk is rightfully called milk, the name has caused arguments. This is hardly surprising given the high level of competition for customers. 

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) threatened to ban producers of soy milk from using the name “milk”. It said that the state defined milk as the result of the “milking of one or two healthy cows”. However, the Institute for Justice (IJ) said that the ban would be harmful to consumers and may cause First Amendment issues. The IJ also said that consumers should not be confused by the name because soy milk is always fully labelled. It remains to be seen whether the FDA commissioner will make any changes to labelling rules in the future. 

It’s not just in the US that there has been disagreement over the name for soy milk. In Europe, the name is also contentious for some people. As with many food products, it has been the subject of much discussion. However, the name is still permitted in European countries like Spain, Italy, and France.

In Australia, the Australia/New Zealand Food Standards Code (FSANZ) is in charge of decisions regarding labelling. The current ruling of the FSANZ is that names like “milk” can be used on products, as long as the labelling provides context. This is the case with soy milk as its labelling states that it’s not a dairy product. 

In summary 

There is much debate about whether producers should refer to soy milk as “milk”. If you look to history and the dictionary for an answer, you will see that people have used the term “milk” to refer to the juice of some plants for centuries. Take a look at this interesting article by the Smithsonian which discusses this subject. 

Overall, it seems that calling soy milk “milk” is accepted by different societies across the world. This is because people understand the context of the word “milk” from the labelling. However, some people, especially in the dairy industry, are likely to keep the debate going. They believe that “milk” should refer only to the dairy product and are likely to continue arguing their case. 

Dairy milk and plant based products like soy milk both provide essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals and are popular with consumers. It’s understandable that the dairy industry wants to project itself in a competitive market. It will be interesting to see what happens on both sides of the argument in the future. 

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