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SPOTLIGHT
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Don't 'got milk'

Published on -8/20/2014, 8:21 AM

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Imitation dairy products might account for nearly 70 percent of the items a shopper finds in the dairy case today. That's according to the latest data from the dairy industry.

A trip down the grocery aisle quickly will reveal the often-copied dairy products. There are products that mimic butter, cream, whipped cream, sour cream, ice cream and yogurt. Imitation milk is not a new item and neither are the knockoffs for real cheese, including colby, cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss and even American pasteurized, processed cheese.

These so-called dairy products are made from soybeans to rice to hemp, and many do not contain milk. Still, the average shopper would find it almost impossible to know that from the labels these products use.

Federal law requires milk, yogurt, ice cream, sour cream and cheese be made with milk from cows. An increasing number are made from products including soybeans, nuts and plants.

These imitators are packaged like real dairy products, and the words "milk" or "dairy" often appear in their names. They pretend to be natural dairy products, but they're not.

Before you "get your bowels in an uproar," I'm not suggesting such products shouldn't be sold. Today's consumers choose food for many reasons -- allergies, ethics, personal preference, religion, etc.

Another significant reason imitation dairy products thrive in today's grocery stores is the lower price. Budget-conscious consumers literally eat this up.

Food product names should be informative, not deceptive. When shoppers opt for a non-dairy alternative, many do so thinking it has the same nutrient value as real milk.

Let's call a spade a spade, putting a white fluid into a similar package as milk, with pictures showing uses for it just like milk and phrases on the carton like, the perfect alternative for milk confuses shoppers and tends to lead them to believe these imitation products are the real deal and they're not. And while we're at it, let's move these imitation items out of the dairy case as well.

These products can be sold but should be renamed so consumers better understand the differences between these imitations and real dairy products. The term milk, cheese, yogurt or ice cream should be used for foods that come from cows.

Consumers interested in eating real foods should remember three categories of food where imitations crop up consistently: dairy foods, juices and processed meats. Always check the label for the word imitation.

Check the first ingredient listed on the label. This ingredient usually constitutes the greatest amount of the food item. An example, the first ingredient of real cheese is milk.

Another thing to look for is the REAL Seal on the package of the food product you buy. You can be confident you are purchasing a genuine dairy product that starts with milk from cows on U.S. dairy farms.

The REAL Seal guarantees the product was produced in this country, meets strict federal standards for milk and dairy products and contains no casein, vegetable oil, non-domestic dairy protein or ingredient or any cheese substitute.

Remember, every time you pay for a food item, you plop down real money. Make sure you know what you're buying.

John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwest Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.

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