The traditional dairy vs. plant-based dairy power play is not new to the world. It has been keenly fought between several lobbies and interest groups for a long time. However, recently it got amplified in India and spilled into the public domain when Dr R S Sodhi, managing director of GCMMF (Amul), tweeted in response to unsolicited advice from PETA to switch producing vegan-milk. The socio-economic impact on "Livelihood of about 100 million dairy farmers" and unacceptability of "expensive and factory manufactured food "were the main points put forward by Dr Sodhi. Several commentators did not lose the opportunity to draw attention to a recent draft notification from FSSAI. The said notification proposed that the word milk should apply exclusively to animal-derived milk and milk products and therefore must not be used on the pack of non-dairy and plant-based dairy products.
Pro-vegan groups have argued that the term "milk" has been traditionally used for both plant-based as well as animal-derived milk. They claim that the end customer is given enough clarity by using hybrid or hyphenated names such as 'coconut-milk' or 'peanut butter'. They, of course, cite "numerous" other health and environmental benefits of large-scale switching to vegan milk. They do not shy to play the victimhood card when saying that while the government has no role in subsidizing the vegan-milk industry, it is hell-bent on taking away the freedom to choose a well-understood name by the common man.
The groups such as the National Cooperative Dairy Federation of India (NCDFI) fear this as an attempt of the plant-based food companies to encash the equity of milk. They warn that factory-produced milk is in no way the same as animal-derived milk.
In my opinion, FSSAI is well within its bounds when it decides to give the 'commercial definition' of milk, but it only says what cannot be called 'milk'. It leaves it open for interpretation- what should we call the plant-based 'milk'? Coining a new term and producing a new distinct logo could have avoided the problem altogether.
FSSAI further says, "Dairy term or phonetically similar or spell alike terms shall not be used in the nomenclature of the product." Notwithstanding the directions, I would like to stick my neck out and propose a new term for Vegan milk - Vilk. It is phonetically distinct from milk but still easy to interpret by ordinary consumers. FSSAI should have a distinctive logo for Vilk - probably using green color.
Vegan groups should have no objection to it as the word 'Vegan' itself was coined not long ago to differentiate it from the word 'vegetarian'. There are other precedents too - so instead of calling something artificial silk or new silk, it was called Nylon. Not long ago we got a distinct logo for Indian Rupee to give it a separate identity and quick recognition.
If Vilk is suitable for lactose-intolerant people, if it is a wonder product for people looking for saturated-fat free and cholesterol-free options, if it is sustainable and can satisfy the people's desire to live an alternate 'guilt-free' life, let them brand their product using a new name and let the market forces decide the fate of both Milk and Vilk.
I believe there is a genuine market for both Milk and Vilk, and they will co-exist for the next many decades. The commercial success of Vilk will bring more money for R&D in production, processing, and distribution, but whether or when it will significantly replace Milk is still anybody's guess. However, I feel Vilk will be a much more practical option for the human settlers on other planets. Maybe more than saving Mother Earth, Vilk might help us leave this planet and find a new one - Land of Vilk and Honey!
Trivia: Not just in English, FSSAI can coin names in other Indian languages too. Vanaspati + Doodh = Voodh can be an option for Hindi.
Himank Saini Sadh has a profound interest in philosophy and politics. He calls himself a global citizen who keenly observes and comments on global issues and concerns.