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EU court rules: Plant-based milk isn’t ‘milk’

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The EU Court of Justice put their foot down today on plant-based milk products using the word ‘milk’ in their labeling. Plant-based foods now cannot be sold in the European Union using terms such as milk, butter, and cheese.

According to the court’s decision, the term is reserved by EU law for milk of animal origin or products directly derived from bovine milk.

There are some allowances, including coconut milk, nut butter, and ice cream, but the majority rule applies to all products not on the list of exceptions, such as soya and tofu.

German company TofuTown had argued its advertising of vegan and vegetarian purely plant-based products – Soyatoo Tofu Butter, Rice Spray Cream, and Veggie Cheese – did not infringe any relevant EU legislation.

In February, the American Soybean Association (ASA) and the Soyfoods Association of North America (SANA) objected to draft U.S. legislation that would restrict the marketing of soymilk. 1.130, referred to as the Dairy Pride Act, would prohibit the term “milk” from being used with soymilk and soymilk-based products, under the premise that the term “milk” is misleading to consumers.

“This legislation is unnecessary as no confusion in the market exists,” argued ASA President Ron Moore and SANA President Wendy Behr in the letter, noting that the term “soymilk” has been in commercial use since 1947. “Consumers of soymilk clearly understand that the product is derived from soybeans rather than bovine milk, and a large percentage consume it for just that reason due to dietary choices or restrictions.”

Last month, Jim Mulhern, President and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation addressed the issue in the U.S. market:

“Certainly, there’s a market for dairy alternatives that, while small on a volume basis, is going to be filled by some non-dairy beverages.  We have never contended that consumers should be denied that choice.  But the purpose of government food standards is to prevent false and misleading labeling.  Co-opting the name, imagery and packaging of real milk, while not offering the same nutritional content, is absolutely false and misleading marketing. Other countries actually do a much better job of enforcing milk labeling terminology, which is why terms such as “almondmilk” and “soy milk” are not found on plant beverages sold in the European Union, the United Kingdom and Canada. Plant-based imitators in those places have found other ways to label their products.”

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