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Aubrey Plaza's satirical ad for 'wood milk' violated federal law, a new complaint says

Alex Bitter   

Aubrey Plaza's satirical ad for 'wood milk' violated federal law, a new complaint says
  • A nonprofit accused a "Got Milk?" ad featuring the actor Aubrey Plaza of violating federal laws.
  • The spot used USDA funds to disparage plant-based milk, per a complaint filed with the USDA.

A nonprofit has accused a "Got Milk?" advert featuring "The White Lotus" actor Aubrey Plaza of violating federal laws.

The ad, which was created using funding from a US Department of Agriculture program to promote dairy milk, features Plaza talking up "Wood Milk," a milk alternative made from trees. At the end of the spot, she reveals that the product is fake. "Only real milk is real," Plaza said.

A complaint filed by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine with the USDA's inspector general accused the ad of running afoul of two federal requirements for USDA-backed ads.

The complaint cited a federal law that prohibits USDA-backed ads from disparaging other agricultural commodities. Another statute said that the ads couldn't influence government action or policy. Right now, the Food and Drug Administration is seeking public comments on proposed labeling guidelines for plant-based milk.

The Physicians Committee wrote in its complaint that the spot was "designed to elicit 'backlash' against plant-based milks." The Committee is a nonprofit that advocates for public health and animal rights, especially those related to the food system and medical testing.

"This conduct unabashedly violates the legal guardrails that exist to prevent USDA from promoting one commodity to the detriment of others," the complaint continued.

A representative for the "Got Milk?" campaign deferred comment to the USDA. A representative for the USDA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Plaza faced backlash for appearing in the ad when it debuted last month. "I thought we left the cow milk propaganda in the 90s," one commenter on social media wrote, referencing the series of "Got Milk?" ads that featured celebrities sporting mustaches after drinking a glass of dairy milk.

The complaint marks the latest flashpoint between the US dairy industry and brands that make milk out of plant-based ingredients, including soy, almonds, and peas. While just 15% of milk sold in the US in 2022 was plant-based, the category is growing faster than cow's milk: Plant-based milk sales grew 8% to $2.8 billion in 2022, according to the Plant Based Foods Association. Meanwhile, the production and consumption of cow's milk in the US has been declining for years.

Plant-based milk companies have engaged in ad stunts of their own. A recent campaign from Silk mimicked the original "Got Milk?" ads, with the children of celebrities showing off plant-based milk mustaches. Oatly, a Swedish brand that gained attention for a bizarre Super Bowl ad in 2021, recently launched a website that catalogs its missteps.

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