Plant based products cannot use the word 'milk', EU court says

The court said if it is not from an animal, it can't be called milk
The court said if it is not from an animal, it can't be called milk

The EU's Court of Justice has today ruled that plant based products cannot use the word 'milk'.

The court said that plant based products cannot, in principle, be marketed with designations such as ‘milk’, ‘cream’, ‘butter’, ‘cheese’ or ‘yoghurt’, which are reserved by EU law for animal products.

It comes following an EU case involving a German company which produces and distributes vegetarian and vegan foods.

The German company TofuTown promotes and distributes purely plant-based products under the designations ‘Soyatoo Tofu butter’, ‘Plant cheese’, ‘Veggie Cheese’, ‘Cream’ and other similar designations.

A German association, whose responsibilities include combatting unfair competition, takes the view that promoting those products infringes the EU legislation on designations for milk and milk products.

Consequently, it brought action against TofuTown. The Court of Justice was asked to interpret the relevant EU legislation.

In today’s judgement, the Court observes that the relevant legislation reserves the term ‘milk’ only for milk of animal origin.

In addition, except where expressly provided, that legislation reserves designations like ‘cream’, ‘butter’, ‘cheese’ and ‘yoghurt’ solely for milk products, that is products derived from milk.

The Court concludes that the designations set out above cannot be legally used to designate a purely plant-based product unless that product is mentioned on the list of exceptions, which is not the case for soya or tofu.

'Very positive'

NFU dairy board chairman Michael Oakes said the court ruling is 'very positive'.

“We welcome the European Court of Justice ruling, which is clear that the use of ‘milk, cream, butter, cheese or yoghurt’ to market and advertise plant-based products, such as soya milk, is, in principle, prohibited under EU law.”

“The NFU has long called for clarity in labelling for products marketed as dairy alternatives.

“It is important that consumers are not confused or misled and we expect the UK supply chain to act upon this ruling in the marketing of these products where applicable.”