A supermarket shelf full of plant-based milks
Franki Chamaki

September 27, 2019Harvard Law student calls for flexibility in food labeling

Harvard Law School student and Co-President of the Animal Law Society Gabriel Wildgen’s testifies at a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) public meeting.

At a public meeting held by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Friday, Harvard Law student Gabriel Wildgen called for flexibility in food labelling in the interests of both consumers and innovation.

The meeting, entitled “Horizontal Approaches to Food Standards of Identity Modernization”, sought input from the public on the agency’s efforts to update its “standards of identity.”

Wildgen urged the FDA to “continue its long-standing practice of allowing food labels to refer to the names of standardized foods such as milk so long as qualifying language such as “almond” or “soy” is included to make the product’s ingredients and intended use clear to consumers.”

He explained: “Consumers are not confused by product labels with modified names of standardized foods such as rice noodles, gluten-free bread, and almond butter.”

Wildgen also argued that appropriately qualified food labels are a form of commercial speech protected under the First Amendment.

“Without a reasonable public health or consumer confusion argument to justify restricting terms such as “milk” to only cows’ milk or “noodles” to only wheat noodles, the FDA does not have a legally substantial interest in doing so,” he said.

Update:  Harvard’s Animal Law & Policy Clinic submitted a detailed written comment to the agency in November.