Vegan products can no longer be sold in the EU under the names of their dairy equivalent, rules the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
The landmark ruling by the European Court of Justice, states that vegan products which had previously been labelled as ‘milk’, ‘butter’ or ‘cream’, must no longer be names as such in the EU, as it is confusing for consumers.
The case was raised by a consumer group due to German company TofuTown using labels such as ‘soyatoo tofu butter’ and ‘veggie cheese’, which the Luxembourg court determined ‘cannot be legally used to designate a purely plant-based product’.
The court decided that for the purposes of marketing and advertising, the term ‘milk’ must only be used for milk of animal origin and that other associated products, including ‘cream’, ‘butter’, ‘cheese’ and ‘yoghurt’, should only be used for products actually derived from milk.
The European Vegetarian Union (EVU) has released a statement regarding today’s verdict, which they say: “has little to do with consumer protection [and instead is] motivated by economic concerns.”
They continued that: “Plant-based alternatives to milk products have been on the market for many years. As many of them have been developed and produced specifically to resemble the “originals”, they should be allowed to be marketed under similar sales denominations. It is the EVU’s position that ‘milky names’ on plant-based milk alternatives convey important information on what consumers can expect from a product.”
There are a number of exemptions under EU rules introduced in 2013, however. Some popular products such as coconut milk, peanut butter and salad cream are exempt from the ruling, and may still be named as such, even though they are plant-based products.
Dominika Piasecka, spokesperson for The Vegan Society, said: “The Court’s ruling follows concerns over customer confusion – but realistically speaking, how likely is it that someone buys a carton of soya milk and think it’s dairy milk?”
“As customers are increasingly moving away from eating animals, the demand for vegan products is rapidly growing, with over half a million vegans in Great Britain now. There’s no denying that the meat, dairy and egg industries are feeling threatened, and this court case is a desperate move to try to restrict the marketing of vegan products.”
The dairy-free industry is expected to be worth $16 billion by 2018, up from $7 billion in 2015, according to a recent report by Innova Market Insights.