European parliament bans use of dairy-related terms for plant-based alternatives

EUROPE – The European Parliament has voted to ban use of dairy-related terms for plant-based alternatives, a move that has elicited mixed reactions in the dairy industry.

With the law in force, terms such as ‘almond milk’ and ‘vegan cheese’, as well as ‘yogurt-style’ and ‘cheese alternative’ for dairy-free products will no longer be used for plant-based alternatives in Europe.

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In a surprising twist of events, the same parliament rejected an amendment 165 proposing to ban ‘meaty’ terms for vegan products, – much to the sector’s delight.

Highilighting the disaccord in EU ruling, ProVeg vice president Jasmijn de Boo said, “It is inconceivable to us just how the European Parliament could take such different positions on such similar proposals.”

Unlike their sister terms in the dairy industry which can longer be used, terms such as ‘Vegan Cheese’, ‘sausage’, ‘steak’ or ‘escalope’ for vegetarians will continue to be used in plant-based meat alternatives.

A win for dairy industry

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Unsurprisingly, the dairy industry rejoiced in the news that plant-based alternatives will not legally be able to carry dairy-related terms.

The protection of dairy terms, said the European Dairy Association (EDA), is ‘crucial’ for the whole European dairy sector.

“At European level, the protection of dairy terms guarantees that all dairy products are made out of milk and milk products,” the membership body noted.

The ban according to EDA, will help avoid consumer confusion, between products that are different in terms of origin, ingredient composition and nutritional value.

“Non-dairy products cannot hijack our dairy terms and the well-deserved reputation of excellence in milk and dairy. This is a good day for the EU lactosph​ère, for our European consumers and citizens, and for Europe.”

European Dairy Association

The vote follows on from a 2017 ruling, which saw the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ban the use of dairy names such as ‘milk’, ‘butter’, ‘cheese’, and ‘yogurt’ for purely plant-based products – with the exception of coconut milk, peanut butter, almond milk and ice cream.

A major blow to the plant-based dairy sector

The ruling is however a major blow to the plant-based dairy sector with many players in this industry lamenting the outcome.

The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), for example, said it is a ‘pity’ that MEPs approved further ‘unnecessary’ restrictions for the naming of plant-based dairy alternatives.

Senior food policy officer Camille Perrin said BEUC is now looking to the European Council to oppose the move, which, she said, ‘has nothing to do with consumer protection’.

“We deeply regret [the European Parliament’s] vote in favour of far-reaching and entirely unnecessary restrictions on the descriptions of plant-based dairy products,” ​said ProVeg vice president Jasmijn de Boo.

de Boo further raised concerns that plant-based dairy businesses could now be ‘saddled with significant financial burdens’ and ‘practical challenges’ around renaming, rebranding, and remarketing their products.

A ray hope for plant-based dairy sector

According to ProVeg’s de Boo there is ‘still hope’ the dairy-ban will not turn into legislation. This is because the European Commission and European Council must both also decide on the matter.

She further noted that “There is also a very small chance that the CAP reform, the package of which the ban is only a small part, will fall as a whole. In which case everything, including this ban, goes back to the drawing board.”

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