Yet more on labelling, I fear – but not this time on traceability or ‘may contain’ warnings, but on definitions. And you think gluten or nuts are complicated in terms of definitions and labelling? Just try milk….

So which misconception shall we get out of the way first? How about eggs?  No, eggs are not  dairy products, even though chickens have been known to roam around dairies. Eggs come from chickens, not from cows.

How about lactose? No, lactose free does notvmean dairy/cow’s milk/animal milk free. Lactose is a sugar found in all animal milks (including human); it is not a protein or a fat, it is a sugar. Those who suffer from so called  ‘lactose intolerance’ are not actually reacting to, or intolerant of, lactose – they just do not make enough of the enzyme lactase which would allow them to digest the lactose sugar. As a result, the lactose sugar ferments in their guts.

So, what are dairy products? Reasonably enough you would think that they are any products that come out of a dairy. OK – but who lives in a dairy? Well, the old thinking was that only cows spent time in dairies, although the many producers of goat’s milk, buffalo milk and almost any other milk might wish to take issue with that. However, that’s the way it was. So you could, confusingly but legally, call a goat, or sheep or buffalo milk product ‘dairy free’ because it was free of cow’s milk. No more.

But, although the regulations have changed so that all animal milk products are now classed as ‘dairy products’ this has not been widely broadcast. Also, it does not stop there as, under the new regulations, the term ‘dairy’ has been ousted in favour of ‘milk’. This may not seem to make a great deal of sense either as most people tend to think of ‘milk’ as ‘milk’ – not as yogurt, or cheese, or ice cream, or butter or any of the other milk derivatives which they might normally have classed as ‘dairy products’! However, under the new reg.s, milk it is, so we had better get used to it.

Effectively what this means is that any ingredient which is made from or derived from an animal milk needs to be labelled with its name and ‘milk’ in brackets (and in bold) after it. And…. if the milk concerned is not cow’s milk, then you have to say so.

So a feta cheese should be labelled ‘feta cheese (sheep’s milk)’, a chocolate ice cream ‘Chocolate ice cream (milk)’, and, technically, butter should be labelled ‘butter (milk)’. However, the reg.s state that if you would normally expect the foodstuff to be made from animal milk (such as butter, cream or yogurt) then you do not actually need to add the (milk) – instead you have to highlight/bold the word butter (or cream or yogurt).

To be honest, even though having to add (milk) after butter may seem over the top, making assumptions about what the consumer does or doesn’t know about the dairy (milk) content of specific products seems pretty risky. What happens if you have a poor command of the language – or just a very poor awareness of what goes into foods and are actually do not realise that butter is made from milk?

So, just for the record and in case you don’t know, or the manufacuturer has failed to include (milk) in the ingredients list, the following are just a few of the many food stuffs which are either made from or derived from animal milk:

Butter, casein, whey, cheese, cottage cheese (although you might not know it by the taste!), Quark, cream, clotted cream, buttermilk, ghee, ice cream, yogurt, lactose, condensed milk, curd, kefir, kulfi, lassi, paneer, powdered/dried milk, many low fat spreads  – and that is before you start on the very long list of foods which may have dairy/milk as an unlikely ingredient – such as a surprising number of plain potato crisps – and condoms, although they do not, I hope, class as a foodstuff!

Cartoon courtesy of Christopher White



Way back in 1987, just as I was starting work on a major history of English food, my eighteen-month-old son, Jonathan, and his father were diagnosed with dairy intolerances. Back then the alternatives for those on dairy-free diets were few and far between and pretty unappealing so, after some months of experimentation, I launched Berrydales Special Ices, soya based ices which were dairy and additive free – and tasted delicious! While manufacturing the ices I started a newsletter, The Inside Story, about food allergy and food intolerance and, by 1995, it was a quarterly magazine circulating to over 35,000 health professionals. In 2000 The Inside Story, re-named Foods Matter, became a subscription magazine and now all of that information, and much, much more, is accessible on the Foods Matter, Coeliacs Matter and Skins Matter sites and on our two freefrom food sites, FreeFromFoodsMatter and FreeFromRecipesMatter. You can follow me on twitter @FoodsMatter or email me at And, of course, you can also follow the exciting growth of freefrom food by checking out our annual FreeFrom Food Awards celebrating the best and the newest in freefrom foods!

Add a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *