Food Ingredients First: 'Plant-based censorship off the table? The alt-milk arena celebrates EU dropping Amendment 171'
26 May 2021 --- The long-running issue over dairy alternative terminology across European markets has taken another turn, with confirmation from several plant-based proponents that policymakers are edging closer to pushing Amendment 171 off the table.
The European Commission will not completely confirm to FoodIngredientsFirst whether proposals to bar “dairy-like” names from milk alternatives will be completely rejected. However, the plant-based dairy sector is already celebrating.
ProVeg International – which has been co-leading a campaign to reject Amendment 171 with vegan oat milk maker Oatly – says: “Europe has spoken. Plant-based dairy censorship is off the table. This is a huge victory for the planet and the plant-based sector alike. Common sense has won out: you can’t ignore the voice of nearly half a million consumers.”
“We welcome the decision to reject Amendment 171. It is essential and time-critical to focus on removing legal obstacles hindering the shift toward a sustainable food system, not introducing new ones,” comments Cecilia McAleavey, director of public affairs and sustainable eating at Oatly.
Meanwhile, the European Alliance for Plant-Based Foods says: “We did it. Together, we managed to stop Amendment 171. We are proud to have led and coordinated this incredible joint effort across the whole plant-based food value chain, from farmers to consumers. This is just the beginning. The future is plant-based.”
Opposing the ban means that “dairy-like” words such as “creamy” or phrases like “alternative to” will remain legal on plant-based milks, yogurts, cheese and butter.
When FoodIngredientsFirst asked the representatives of the European Parliament for confirmation that Amendment 171 is indeed killed off for good, a spokesperson responded: “The final wording of the package is being negotiated right now.”
“As trilateral talks between the Parliament, Council and Commission are governed by the principle ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,’ we cannot confirm yet whether the text of Amendment 171 will be part of the agreed text.”
Potential restriction on sustainability gains?
A ruling in favor of the Amendment 171 would have restricted plant-based producers from discussing the environmental advantages of their products by comparing them to traditional dairy products.
If the ban were implemented, plant-based proponents under the Vegan Society assert that it would have been more difficult for businesses and consumers to transition toward a climate-friendly food system.
Restrictions would also apply to the use of a picture of a plant-based white beverage being poured at a breakfast table, or white foam swirling into a cappuccino. In its most restrictive interpretation, this could result in bans on plant-based food packaging that looks visually similar to dairy packaging.
The Vegan Society stresses this would have a “detrimental effect” on food manufacturers, especially smaller ones, who may have been forced to spend “thousands of pounds” to redesign their packaging.
“Science shows how important it is to shift to plant-based diets to tackle climate change and public health challenges,” McAleavey at Oatly tells FoodIngredientsFirst. “Given that we have only nine years to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, we all need to focus on how we can accelerate the shift and make it easier for consumers to choose plant-based options.”
What does the dairy space say?
Europe’s “lactosphere” players have responded to the latest developments, saying they do not expect the contested labeling terms will conflict with their businesses significantly. The win would not be a total free pass for alt-dairy players, because EU policy still offers certain protections for milk-based product distinctions, they say.
Current EU law mandates that companies cannot market “soy milk” but only “soy drink,” and while the marketing of “vegan cheese” remains “illegal”, brands use “vegan block,” or “vegan wedge” to convey their message.
“There are a list of terms reserved solely for use by dairy products in the single Common Market Organization (CMO) regulation (Regulation 1308/2013),” Alice O’Donovan, legal and policy advisor at Eucolait, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
“Given the protections already in place for butter, cheese, etc. in the CMO regulation, we do not expect the dropping of Amendment 171 to have a serious impact on dairy.”
Alexander Anton, secretary general at the European dairy association Euromilk, comments: “We have never been lobbying against plant-based products. These products have their place in the market and on the shelves. But the first pre-requirement of co-existence is of course respect.”
“As long as some want to hijack our dairy terms and their well-deserved reputation, the respect basis is not given. Respect for our products, respect for the dairy people on the farms and in the manufacturing sites translates into the respect of the dairy terms.”
Long-running plant-based push back
Last April, more than 34 Members of European Parliament (MEPs) called on the European Commission (EC) and the Council to reject “plant-based dairy censorship” during the Trilogues.
In February, the Vegan Society signed an open letter alongside 21 international NGOs including WWF, Greenpeace, Food Watch and Compassion in World Farming, calling on the European Parliament to dismiss the ban and instead, encourage a shift toward more plant-based diets.
“As with October’s ‘meat’ terms ruling, which failed to provide evidence that consumers were mistaking veggie burgers or vegan sausages for meat, there has never been any indication that people feel misled by dairy alternatives,” the Vegan Society states.
“Like with meat alternatives, where farmers and meat lobbyists accused the plant-based business sector of ‘cultural hijacking,’ the society strongly believes it is only the dairy industry that insists consumers are confusing their usual milk choices for plant-based alternatives – despite the fact there are no facts or figures to prove this is the case.”
The Vegan Society reports good performance in the plant-based dairy sector over the last half-decade. Plant-based milk (up 107 percent) and plant-based cheese (up 165 percent) both showed triple-digit sales growth between 2018 and 2020.
The value of the alternative milk sector is set to more than double from £226 million (US$320 million) to £497 million (US$704.4) between 2019 to 2025, the organization highlights.
“We are pleased with the European Parliament’s decision,” says Louise Davies, head of campaigns, policy and research at The Vegan Society. “Now is not the time to be restricting the plant-based business sector.”
“This was simply an attempt by the dairy industry to hold back the rise of the vegan movement and would have done absolutely nothing to support consumer understanding. Instead it would have had a hugely negative impact on plant-based businesses, brands and manufacturers.”