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Background

In Europe, Regulation (EU) No. 1308/2018 (Regulation) establishes a common organization of markets for agricultural products.  Article 78 of the Regulation states that the terminology and naming conventions (such as definitions, designations, and sales descriptions) for various sectors and products, such as meat and milk and milk products intended for human consumption are provided in Annex VII.  Part III of Annex VII specifically reserves the use of the terms “milk”, “cheese”, “yoghurt”, “butter” or “whey” exclusively to products that contain dairy “milk” (which is defined as “…the normal mammary secretion obtained from one or more milkings without either addition thereto or extraction therefrom”).  However, the Regulation does not contain any provision that reserves the use of the terms “steak”, “sausage”, “escalope”, “burger” or “hamburger” exclusively for products that contain meat.

Amendment 165 and 171

Late in the day on Friday of last week, members of the European Parliament (MEP) cast their final votes on two amendments relating to the use of dairy-like and “meaty” terminology for plant-based products that would have amended certain portions of Parts I and III of Annex VII of the Regulation.  Interestingly, the MEPs took different positions on the two somewhat similar proposals.  Specifically, the MEPs voted against Amendment 165, which would have amended Part I to prohibit terms like “steak”, “sausage”, “escalope”, “burger” or “hamburger” from use with plant-based (vegetarian and vegan) products.  However, the MEPs voted for Amendment 171, which amends Part III to ban terms like “vegan cheese” as well as “butter-style”, “yogurt-style” and “cheese-style” for dairy-free products.  Thus, as a result, plant-based alternatives will not be able to carry any dairy-related terms.

The vote on Amendment 171 follows a 2017 ruling from the European Court of Justice that banned the use of dairy terms like “milk”, “butter”, “cheese” and “yogurt” for purely plant based products (e.g., tofu) with the exception of coconut milk, peanut butter, almond milk and ice cream.  Not surprisingly, the European Dairy Association lauded the vote stating that “Non-dairy products cannot hijack our dairy terms and well-deserved reputation of excellence in milk and dairy.”  Opponents to Amendment 171 point out that the ban appears to contradict the European Green Deal objectives and the Farm-to-Fork Strategy which both aim to create healthier and more sustainable food systems.

It will be fascinating to watch the implementation of Amendment 171 in the EU.  Although the purpose of Amendment 171 is to prevent customer confusion, by voting against Amendment 165, it seems likely that some customer confusion will result.  Only time will tell.

This post was written by Lisa Mueller

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