Hard cheese for soya and tofu as EU court bans dairy names for plant-based products

Milk products may carry labels indicating regional or territorial origins. Fancy a "Catalan Yoghurt"? [Brianna Laugher/Flickr]

Plant-based products like soya and tofu can no longer be sold with dairy-type names like milk or butter, the European Union’s top court ruled Wednesday (14 June).

The European Court of Justice said dairy terms could only be used while marketing or advertising designated animal products.

The court acted on a case in which German competition regulators complained about German firm TofuTown’s plant-based products like tofu butter or rice spray cream.

“Purely plant-based products cannot, in principle, be marketed with designations such as ‘milk’, ‘cream’, ‘butter’, ‘cheese’ or ‘yoghurt’,” the court said in a statement.

It said those foods are reserved for animal products under EU law, even if the producer makes clear their plant origins.

There is a list of exceptions – such as coconut milk, cocoa butter and salad cream – but it added that “is not the case for soya or tofu.”

TofuTown argued that its advertising was in line with EU law because it always referred to the plant origin in labelling its products.

But the Luxembourg-court said: “The addition of descriptive or explanatory terms cannot completely exclude the likelihood of confusion on the part of consumers.”

A regional court in Trier, Germany had asked the EU tribunal to settle the matter.

Positions

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."