Is Soy Milk Really Milk?

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Some dairy farmers are crying over the use of the word “milk” by soy, rice, almond and other milk-like drink makers, but the dispute may be about more than just words.

Despite being more expensive, soy milk and other so-called “milks” that don’t come from mammary glands have been gaining popularity nationwide, and the market for dairy milk substitutes continues to grow.

But traditional milk producers have been catching wind of this, and appear to be defending their turf with semantics.

The National Milk Producers Federation is arguing that the word “milk” should be reserved to describe cows’ milk, and possibly secretions from other mammals’ mammary glands, USA Today reports, despite dictionary definitions that say the word can be used to describe any milk-like substance, including the juice from a coconut.

According to the federation, calling soy milk and similar products "imitation milk" would be more appropriate, USA Today reports, suggesting that dairy milk substitutes are benefitting from being described as “milk.”

Silk Soymilk maker Dean Foods (Stock Quote: DF) says overall U.S. sales of soy milk are likely to grow by about a third to $1 billion in the next few years, and should eventually infiltrate about 33% of U.S. households from the current 12% presence, according to Bloomberg News.

The switch by many households over to soy and other “milks” may be due to better education about lactose intolerance, an inability to digest a major ingredient in milk. According to some studies, as many as 60% of adults can’t digest milk (in general, our ability to digest milk tends to diminish past childhood).

And besides beliefs that soy milk can help prevent cancer, the production of soy protein is at least 13 times more energy efficient than dairy and certainly emits less methane, according to Slate.

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