Milk Checkoff’s ‘Wood Milk’ campaign featuring Aubrey Plaza violates federal laws, health group says

Diving Brief:

  • The Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine filed a complaint with the The USDA inspector general said the campaign by the National Fluid Milk Processors Promotion Program – known as MilkPEP – for the bogus “drink milk” product violates laws prohibiting negative product portrayals and prohibiting advertising to influence politics.
  • Since MilkPEP is the promotions arm funded by the USDA levy program, the department The Agricultural Marketing Service is responsible for approving its campaigns. The Doctors’ Committee says the campaign is illegal and calls for its immediate withdrawal, as well as an investigation into how it was approved in the first place.
  • The campaign launched during the public consultation period on the Proposed FDA Guidelines for the Labeling of Plant-Based Milk. The comment period is open until July 31.

Overview of the dive:

The dairy industry has never been shy about sharing its feelings for plant-based milk, but the Wood Milk campaign, which launched on April 20, has expressed it in a bold and new way.

The campaign represents a fictional business created by actress Aubrey Plaza in which trees are turned into milk. At the end of a video of Plaza talking about Wood Milk in a forest, she says, “Is Wood Milk real? Absolutely not. Only real milk is real.

In its complaint, the doctors’ committee claims that this campaign was designed to provoke backlash against plant-based milk. The campaign features the white mustache image of the iconic “Got Milk?” campaign, originally created by the California Milk Processor Board.

“Using a fictitious product named ‘Wood Milk’ as a substitute for plant-based milks, USDA-approved ads mock plant-based milks as ‘fake’ ‘slime’ with ‘zero nutritional value’ “,” the complaint reads. .

The campaign would be provocative no matter who sponsored it, but because it came from the fluid milk levy, it is subject to a whole other level of scrutiny. The program, one of several generic promotional programs for agricultural products administered by the USDA, aims to expand markets for dairy products in the United States. The program is funded by assessments on milk processed and marketed to consumers.

With the levy administered by the USDA, specific rules must be followed in its marketing campaigns. The complaint states that “Wood Milk” breaks two. He says the campaign denigrates plant-based milks – which are represented by Wood Milk. The campaign declares that Wood Milk is not “real milk”. It is “fake” and has “no nutritional value”.

Meanwhile, plant-based milks — including those made with soy, oats and almonds — have been labeled “milk” for years, and the FDA’s draft guidelines would allow them to retain that name.

Although the FDA has proposed that plant-based milks address nutritional differences from cow’s milk on their labels, the products have nutritional value. The complaint points out that the USDA recognizes soy milk and almond milk as components of a healthy diet.

The complaint also states that the timing of this campaign was intended to influence comments on the FDA’s draft guidelines. He points out that MilkPEP CEO Yin Woon Rani referenced it in an article about the campaign in the marketing trade publication Little Black Book.

This isn’t the first time a USDA levy program has come under scrutiny to determine how its funds have been used to target the herbal industry.

About a decade ago, members of the American Egg Board – which is the egg collection – began working on ways to counteract plant-based Just Mayo, a now-discontinued product made by Hampton Creek, currently known as Eat Just. Some of the funds from the levy went to pro-egg advertisements, which appeared when people searched for the herbal condiment online.

In a survey, the The USDA found that egg collection acted inappropriately and required training on collection program guidelines.

The situation with the egg levy and Hampton Creek inspired 2016 legislation to reform commodity levy programs to be more transparent and crack down on anti-competitive behavior. It has not yet been adopted and forms of the same legislation are still being proposed.

MilkPEP and the USDA did not respond to requests for comment.

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