European Commission to discuss controversial Dairy Ban

Oatly, photo: Leon Seibert on Unsplash
Oatly, photo: Leon Seibert on Unsplash

European Union negotiators are close to an agreement on Amendment 171, the so-called Dairy Ban, which forbids companies from giving their plant-based dairy products names used for animal dairy products.

A European Commission representative confirmed that the amendment would be discussed this week.

Companies producing plant-based dairy products, like Oatly, Danone, Nestle and Unilever, would no longer be allowed to use words like dairy, creamy, or yogurt-style dessert on their packaging.

“It would be almost impossible to communicate about plant-based products,” Siska Pottie, head of the European Alliance for Plant-Based Foods, told Reuters. “Saying a product had half the carbon emission of butter could be forbidden. Even lactose-free might not be allowed, it’s madness.”

The draft legislation, Amendment 171, gained the support of the European parliament last October with 54% of Members of Parliament in favor.

On that same day, the proposed EU ban on the term ‘veggie burger’ was declined, which was a big win for the plant-based industry. But the news was bittersweet as the dairy ban gained enough support.

The Dairy Ban now needs approval from EU member states and parliament, who will discuss it this week along with the Commission. If approved, the Dairy Ban would be rolled out across the EU’s 27 member states.

Critics say that the Dairy Ban goes against Europe’s climate strategy commitment to move consumers towards more plant-based diets. They feel the EU is caving to pressure from Europe’s dairy industry. “This is unjust discrimination towards plant-based products,” said Danone’s head of regulation, Pedro Neves.

“We are in a race against the climate clock. To introduce legislative barriers at a point when science shows how important it is to shift towards plant-based diets is absurd,” said Cecilia McAleavy, public affairs director at Swedish plant-based product maker Oatly.

While dairy producers in countries like Australia and the United States are lobbying for the same rule, courts in those countries have largely overruled their proposals as long as product names include ‘plant-based’ or ‘vegan’.

Europe’s Dairy Association said that labels comparing products to dairy confuse the consumer. But studies by the European Consumer Organisation on people’s understanding of ‘meaty’ or ‘dairy’ names for vegan and dairy alternatives show that most consumers do not find such comparisons confusing.

“Descriptive terms such as ‘dairy alternative’ help consumers understand the characteristics of the product, facilitating more sustainable choices,” a Unilever spokeswoman said.

Across Europe, plant-based product sales, currently at 3 billion euros ($3.62 billion), are projected to rise to 5 billion by 2025, according to ING Research. Plant-based drinks have the most secure position, with 10% of the market for milk.

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