FDA, Food and Drug Administration, food labeling, food identity animal-based foods, plant-based foods, milk alternatives, meat substitutes

Document Type



Have you ever seen “tofurkey” at the supermarket and thought it was a rare, delicious cousin of the turkey? The animal based food industries, led by milk and meat producers, are claiming that the reasonable consumer might. On the other hand, the plant based food substitutes are appearing on supermarket shelves with increasingly bold names for their products that tap into our familiarity with animal-based foods, using names like “Beyond Meat.” Where do we draw the line on what plant based food can be called? And who should draw that line? This paper examines the debate surrounding the labeling of plant-based alternatives to animal-based products, and proposes a path forward, led by the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”). Part I will describe the history of “standards of identity” (defined parameters for what a food product must contain to use a particular name) that arose in the 1900’s, promoted by both consumers and well-established industries. Part II will examine the decades-long war between the animal-based and plant-based food industries, which has rapidly intensified because of the recent rise in popularity of milk alternatives and meat substitutes. Part III then proposes a reexamination of the central debate, removed from the framing of these two industry behemoths. Finally, Part III concludes with proposed actions that the FDA could take, consistent with the previously summarized findings, such as allowing plant-based foods to use any food term but disallowing product names that use actual animal source terms. (e.g., “soy nuggets” are allowed, but “awesome chicken” is not).