“Ten crore dairy farmers for whom milk is an instrument of socio-economic development are going to fight this misinformation campaign done by some companies and NGOs (non-governmental organisations) where they are selling chemically fortified beverages manufactured in factories and calling it milk. There are no clinical trials or scientific studies to prove that they are better than milk,” said RS Sodhi, managing director, Amul.
In August, the food regulator, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) issued a draft notification, proposing to stop the use of the word ‘milk’ for such products.
“We have deliberated on the issues with the industry representatives and are analysing the comments we have received. These will go to the scientific panel of FSSAI. Their recommendations will then be put to the authority and then sent to the health ministry,” FSSAI CEO Arun Singhal said, adding that it will take a month or two to come to a decision.
Several foreign and Indian companies are selling plant-based beverages as milk in the country. Sodhi said this violated existing regulations.
“We have requested the FSSAI to instruct these product manufacturers and importers to remove the word ‘milk’ from the labelling and also refrain from using this dairy term in any communication, as it is in violation of the existing regulations,” said Sodhi. He did not rule out legal action.
The Indian plant-based milk industry is worth more than $20 million and is expected to grow manifold over the next decades, just as it has in other markets, said Varun Deshpande, managing director at the Good Food Institute India, which is focused on advancing the alternative protein sector.
Foreign funding of more than $200 million (Rs 1,500 crore) is expected in India for the plant-based beverages sector, according to the industry.
“All research indicates that a majority of Indian consumers can correctly identify the source of plant-based milks as being soy, almond, or oat, and are not confused about their origin,” said Deshpande. “Our research shows that over 80% of Indian consumers believe plant-based milk is the most appropriate and clear description for these products. We fully expect that businesses and consumers will benefit from this innovation, and hope that the FSSAI will proceed on the basis of evidence and fairness in this matter.”
Dairy is the largest agricultural product of India, contributing 2% to the gross domestic product valued at Rs 8 lakh crore, said Sodhi. “The emergence of vegan and plant-based milk substitutes is an opportunity for global companies to profit from the Indian dairy industry,” he said.