The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a US nonprofit health advocacy organization, announces it has filed a complaint with the USDA Office of Inspector General over the now-infamous “Wood Milk” pro-dairy ads. In its complaint, PCRM states the ads violate laws prohibiting federal agricultural promotions from depicting competing products in a negative fashion.
“It is one thing for it to promote cow’s milk. It is quite another thing to mock the products that many nonwhite Americans choose for health reasons”
The widely shared “Wood Milk” campaign features actress Aubrey Plaza extolling the benefits of milk made from tree wood, in an apparent mockery of plant-based milks. While some praised the ad’s bold humor, the campaign mostly sparked outrage amongst Plaza’s fans, who accused her of unfairly attacking dairy-free milk while spreading “propaganda” for the dairy industry.
According to PCRM, the ad derides plant-based products and violates the statutory prohibition against advertising that is “false or misleading or disparaging to another agricultural commodity.” The ad campaign also disregards the prohibition against “unfair or deceptive acts or practices with respect to the quality, value or use of any competing product,” the complaint states.
Influencing milk labeling?
The group also believes the US dairy industry is illegally using the ad to influence government policy. The ad coincides with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA’s) proposed guidelines that would allow plant-based milks to use the world “milk” on their labeling. On February 23, 2023, the FDA issued its draft guidelines and then invited the public to submit comments by April 24, 2023, before the final guidelines would be established.
PCRM says the “Wood Milk” ad was launched before that comment period closed, and on May 1, 2023, the comment period was extended to July 31, 2023. The “Wood Milk” ads have continued to run since then. According to the group, this violates a federal law that says USDA milk advertising dollars can’t be used to influence legislation, government action or policy.
Request for new advertising
In light of these findings, PCRM is requesting that the Office of Inspector General issue a recommendation to stop the “Wood Milk” ads, and that government milk research and promotion programs (also known as “checkoff” programs) release corrective advertising that explains the benefits of plant-based milks.
“The ‘checkoff’ is a government program,” said Physicians Committee President Neal Barnard, MD, FACC, adjunct professor of medicine at George Washington University School of Medicine. “It is one thing for it to promote cow’s milk. It is quite another thing to mock the products that many nonwhite Americans choose for health reasons.”milk plant-based dairy-free industry