EU Court of Justice rules that terms ‘milk’, ‘butter’, ‘cream’ and ‘yoghurt’ can no longer be used to describe plant-based alternatives to dairy products

FOUR PAWS dismayed by the decision which defies common sense.


On June 14th 2017, the EU Court of Justice of the European Union decided that using names commonly associated with dairy products to describe plant-based alternatives such as ‘soya-butter’, ‘rice-cream’ or ‘soya-milk’, can lead to confusion among consumers and should therefore be considered contrary to EU legislation.

The original legal complaint was issued by German competition association Verband Sozialer Wettbewerb (VSW), against Tofutown, a vegan company. In particular, VSW used EU Regulation 1308/2013, which defines the characteristics and the terms that may be used within the EU for marketing a product, to support their case that terms such as ‘butter’, ‘cream’ or ‘milk’ should only be used in relation to dairy products.

However, Tofutown argued that the terms could not mislead consumers, as they were always associated to other words referring to plant-based origin products (such as soya-milk or rice-cream). The Court based its decision on the annexes to the EU Regulation No. 1308/2013, in which milk is defined as: ‘an animal product’, designating “exclusively the normal mammary secretion obtained from one or more milkings without either addition thereto or extraction therefrom”.

"The Commission has already set up exceptions to the use of terms such as ‘milk’ or ‘butter’, in a separate Regulation. What justification is there for allowing the use of words for products such as ‘ice-cream’, ‘nut butter’ or ‘fruit cheese’ containing no dairy products, but not for soya-milk?"

Pierre Sultana, Director of the FOUR PAWS European Policy Office 

"This regulation implemented by the court is clearly financially and economically driven, because plant-based products as an alternative to milk products have been on the market for many years. Since these products are made and produced to look and taste like their animal-derived counterparts, they should be allowed to be marketed according to similar selling principles."

Sonja Svensek, Head of Nutrition at FOUR PAWS International, Farm Animals & Nutrition 

This ruling takes immediate effect and all companies manufacturing vegan products must comply to it, forcing them to rename their products as soon as possible. The only solution would be for the Member States to update these plant-based alternatives to dairy products in the derogation list of the regulation.

FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. FOUR PAWS’ sustainable campaigns and projects focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats, orangutans and elephants – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in twelve countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. 

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