‘Plant-based dairy censorship’: Oatly, Upfield and ProVeg petition to overthrow Amendment 171

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

A new petition is calling on the European Commission and Member States to reject Amendment 171. GettyImages/ nevodka
A new petition is calling on the European Commission and Member States to reject Amendment 171. GettyImages/ nevodka

Related tags Dairy eda Oatly Upfield

Challenger brand Oatly and Flora margarine-owner Upfield are among the brands hoping to overturn a ban on dairy-like terminology for plant-based alternatives. The European Dairy Association, however, tells FoodNavigator that challenging Amendment 171 ‘undermines clear consumer information’.

A new petition is calling on the European Commission and Member States to reject Amendment 171.

Voted in by the European Parliament in October last year​, the amendment bans dairy-related terms for plant-based alternatives. This means that once enforced, terms such as ‘almond milk’ and ‘vegan cheese’, as well as ‘yogurt-style’ and ‘cheese alternative’, will be prohibited for dairy-free products sold across the bloc.

The ban was not well received by many outside the dairy industry. At the time, the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) said the Parliament’s decision was a ‘pity’, and that such terms had ‘nothing to do with consumer protection’.

ProVeg International, which aims to halve the global consumption of animals by 2040, said the ban was a ‘major blow’ to the plant-based dairy sector.

The ‘food awareness charity’, however, is not going down without a fight. Teaming up with Oatly and Upfield, ProVeg is garnering support to see Amendment 171 reversed.

‘There’s still a chance’

While the Parliament voted in favour of the ban, it has yet to be set in stone. Next up are trilogue negotiations – meaning a literary conversation between three parties. In this case, the dialogue will take place between the European Parliament, the EU Council of Ministers and the European Commission.

Given the Commission’s position that pre-existing regulation concerning dairy alternative terminology – notably that dairy names such as ‘milk’, ‘butter’, cheese’ and ‘yogurt’ cannot be used for purely plant-based products – are sufficient, explained Oatly, it is possible that a similar stance from the Council could see the amendment rejected. “There’s still a chance it won’t be adopted into law.”

The amendment will be discussed as part of the trialogues planned to start 27 January 2021.

food label gpointstudio

‘An irresponsible decision’

Oatly, Upfield, and ProVeg argue the ban is at odds with the EU’s aim to improve public health and environmental sustainability.

“This goes directly against the EU’s intent to promote more sustainable food production and makes it more difficult for consumers to choose plant-based options,”​ says Oatly’s Cecilia McAleavey, Director of Public Affairs and Sustainable Eating.

“Given the climate crisis, it’s irresponsible to try and prevent us from encouraging people to make the switch to plant-based and help protect the planet in the process. People are not stupid – everyone understands that this is an attempt by the dairy lobby to hinder the shift towards sustainable plant-based eating.” 

Jasmijn de Boo, Vice President of ProVeg International, said: “It is baffling to once again be forced to justify sustainability. Why would we sabotage innovation? Who will benefit? Green energy is no longer being stifled or opposed, so why are we still suppressing and censoring sustainable food production, given the urgency of the situation? Who stands to lose here?

“We need to adapt across every part of our food chain if we’re to tackle the climate crisis. Genuinely sustainable food production must be enabled. How will we reach our climate goals if we allow the influence of powerful but unsustainable industries to determine our collective fate?”

Upfield’s Dr Jeanette Fielding, who heads up the company’s corporate affairs and communications, said Amendment 171 goes against the interest of consumers, the environment, and health.

“Making it illegal to name, package and depict plant-based foods in the way we have done for over 100 years is a serious step backwards. Consumers are looking for strong EU leadership on climate and environment. That means tearing down bureaucratic barriers to sustainable and healthy eating, not building them higher.”

Dairy industry responds

The dairy industry has been public about its support of Amendment 171. When the ban was first announced, the European Dairy Association (EDA) said it was a ‘good day’ for the “EU lactosphère, for our European consumers and citizens, and for Europe”.

milk vikif

The EDA added: “Non-dairy products cannot hijack our dairy terms and the well-deserved reputation of excellence in milk and dairy.”

Earlier today, EDA Secretary General Alexander Anton noted that the amendment had ‘fuelled quite some debate’ and prompted some stakeholders to ‘create and promote misunderstandings’.

For Anton, the concept of the protection of dairy terms, and therefore Amendment 171, protects ‘consumer quality expectations’ and the ‘fairness of market competition’ in the dairy sector.

“The protection of dairy terms has its global basis in the joint UN-FAO Codex Alimentarius Standard 206-1999 (General Standard for the Use of Dairy Terms) – such a global framework ​only exists for milk and dairy,” ​he explained.

“In our Union, the protection of dairy terms, like ‘milk’, ‘butter’, yogurt’ or ‘whey’ is enshrined in the Single CMO Regulation (Regulation (EU) 1308/2013) for more than thirty years and has proven instrumental to guarantee consumer protection and the recognized EU quality excellence of milk and dairy products.”

Anton challenged plant-based players’ arguments concerning the impact of Amendment 171 on health, environmental sustainability, and consumer protection.

To begin with, the European dairy industry ‘fully subscribes’ to the EU’s Green Deal strategy, he said. Further, there is a major difference between an ‘all plant-based diet’ and a ‘moving to a more plant-based diet’, he continued. “Milk and dairy play a major role in helping to get most diets more nutritious, environmentally friendly, as well as very affordable.”

And finally, challenging the amendment with the open intention of blurring the lines between milk and dairy and so-called ‘plant-based alternatives’ is undermining clear consumer information, said Anton, and “hence the possibility [for] citizens to choose the products they really want in their daily shopping.”

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