- The Committee of Physicians for Responsible Medicine filed a complaint with the The USDA inspector general said the National Fluid Milk Processors Promotion Program’s campaign, known as MilkPEP, for the counterfeit product “wooden milk” violated laws that prohibit negative representations of the product and advertising to influence the policy.
- Because MilkPEP is the promotional arm funded by the USDA discount program, the department The Agricultural Marketing Service is tasked with approving their campaigns. The Physicians Committee says the campaign is illegal and seeks its immediate retraction, as well as an investigation into how it was approved in the first place.
- The campaign launched during the public comment period on the FDA draft guidance on labeling of plant-based milk. The comment period is open until July 31.
The dairy industry has never been shy about its feelings for plant-based milk, but the Wood Milk campaign, which launched on April 20, articulated it in a bold new way.
The campaign represents a fictional company started by actress Aubrey Plaza in which trees are turned into milk. At the end of a video of Plaza talking about Wood Milk while she’s in a forest, she says, “Is Wood Milk real? Absolutely not. Only real milk is real.”
In its complaint, the Physicians Committee says this campaign was designed to provoke a backlash against plant-based milk. The campaign features the white mustache image from the iconic “Do you have milk?” campaign, which was initially created by the California Milk Processor Board.
“Using a fictitious product called ‘Wood Milk’ as a substitute for plant-based milks, USDA-approved ads mock plant-based milks as ‘fake’ ‘slime’ possessing ‘zero nutritional value'” the complaint states. .
The campaign would be provocative regardless of who sponsored it, but because it came since fluid milk control, it is subject to another level of scrutiny. The program, one of many generic promotional programs for produce administered by the USDA, is designed to expand markets for dairy products in the US. The program is funded by assessments of milk processed and marketed to consumers.
With the discount administered by the USDA, specific rules must be followed in your marketing campaigns. The complaint says that “Wooden Milk” breaks two of these. He says the campaign despises plant-based milks, which are represented by Wood Milk. The campaign claims that Wood Milk is not “real milk.” It is “fake” and has “zero nutritional value”.
Meanwhile, plant-based milks, including those made from soy, oats and almonds, have been labeled “milk” for years and the FDA’s draft guidance would allow them to keep that name.
Although the FDA has proposed that plant-based milks address nutritional differences from cow’s milk on their labels, the products do have nutritional value. The complaint notes that the USDA recognizes soy milk and almond milk as components of a healthy diet.
The complaint also says that the timing of this campaign was intended to influence comment on the FDA’s draft guidance. He notes that MilkPEP CEO Yin Woon Rani mentioned it in an article about the campaign in the marketing trade publication Little Black Book.
This isn’t the first time a USDA rebate program has been scrutinized to see how its funds were used to target the plant-based industry.
About a decade ago, members of the American Egg Board, which is egg verification, began working on ways to thwart plant-based Just Mayo, a now-discontinued product made by Hampton Creek, currently known as Fair Eating. Some of the funds from the check went toward pro-egg ads, which appeared when people searched online for the plant-based condiment.
In an investigation, the USDA found that egg verification acted inappropriately and required training on verification program guidelines.
The situation with egg verification and Hampton Creek inspired 2016 legislation to reform commodity verification programs to make them more transparent and crack down on anti-competitive behavior. It has not yet passed, and forms of the same legislation are still being proposed.
milkPEP and USDA did not respond to requests for comment.
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