Soya left out in the cold on milk legislation

By Laura Crowley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Milk

Soya producers and MEPs have once again appealed to the European
Commission to allow soya drinks to be described as 'milk', thereby
introducing legislation that would regulate the quality of the
beverage.

Current European legislation, dating from 1987, means the title 'milk' can only apply to products made from mammary secretion. However, since 1988, exceptions have been made for some vegetable-based drinks, such as coconut milk and almond milk. MEP Anne Laperrouze (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) has now raised the subject again with the EC, asking for a re-evaluation on the legislation to include soya (also known as soy). Deryckere said ENSA and its followers will continue to call on the EC in this way, and they are gaining support for their fight.​ While consumers commonly refer to the drink as soya milk, and companies in America and Asia are entitled to call it this, European manufacturers have to put 'soya drink' or 'soya juice' on the packaging. According to Bernard Deryckere, president of the European Natural Soyfoods Manufacturers Association (ENSA), this leads to confusion for consumers and a lack of quality control. Deryckere told FoodNavigator.com: "We need a legislative framework to ensure that all soya-based drinks are produced to the same level, with criteria requiring companies to use a certain amount of protein, and have certain limits of fat. This would help create quality products, benefiting the consumer as well as the companies." ​ Soya products are also not able to make various nutritional claims on their packaging, despite many reports on soya's health benefits as an alternative to dairy. According to the Council Regulation No 1898/87, which refers to the protection of designations used in the marketing of milk and milk products, the European Commission is required to draft a yearly report on the subject. However, it had failed to produce one for 20 years. In June 2007, the EC finally published the report, but failed to mention the soya sector. ENSA was disappointed, having considered it "an excellent opportunity to bring regulations in line with consumers' reality​". Soya drinks are made by soaking soybeans, grinding them with water and straining the fluid. The drinks were originally considered to be an alternative to dairy products for consumers who are lactose-intolerant or vegetarians. However, health benefits have also been reported by researchers, thereby widening their appeal. Volumes of soya beverages consumed in North America, Western Europe and Japan have more than double since 2002, according to Zenith International. In 2006, 1.5m European households tried soya products for the first time and the total global consumption was 1.188m litres in 2006, with a retail value of €3.3bn. Zenith predicts growth to 1,900 litres and €5.35m by 2011. Deryckere said the consumers are not sufficiently informed about the product while it is stuck in a "legislative vacuum"​. Soya is a source of vitamins B1, B2, B6 and E as well as minerals. It contains isoflavones, which have been found to have some cancer-preventing qualities. Scientific research linking soya consumption to low cholesterol and lower incidence of osteoporosis has further increased consumer demand. According to Deryckere, using soya is also more sustainable, with all ENSA members preparing their products using non-genetically modified soya. It is also less of a drain on natural resources while in dairy farming, one kilo of vegetable protein is used to get one litre of milk back.

Related topics: Proteins, Policy

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