Soya milk and peanut butter: what names can and cannot be used?

Like vegetarian meat substitutes, dairy substitutes are also often named after the product they are replacing. As a result, consumers will sometimes find products on the shelf labelled ‘milk’ or ‘yoghurt’, even though they are actually plant based. A conflict about this practice has led to a ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

According to European agricultural legislation, the term ‘milk’ may be used to describe only products from “normal mammary secretion obtained from one or more milkings, without either addition thereto or extraction therefrom”. According to the ECJ, the term ‘milk’ may not be used to refer to a purely plant-based product. Adding words like ‘tofu’ or ‘soya’, which should make it clear that these are dairy substitutes, is not permitted either. This also applies to other dairy product names like ‘butter’, ‘cheese’ and ‘yoghurt’. Products that are popularly known as ‘soya milk’ may no longer be marketed under that name.

So what about vegan schnitzel?

The ECJ ruling only concerns dairy products, because the question referred by the German court was based simply on a directive for agricultural products (for further details please see “Can a vegan schnitzel be called a schnitzel?’’). Meat or fish products fall under other directives. This ruling does not therefore mean an immediate end to meat names for meat substitutes like vegan schnitzel.

Important exceptions to this rule are terms which, for traditional or language reasons, have had dairy names for a long time, despite not being dairy products. These include:

  • peanut butter;
  • cocoa butter; and
  • coconut milk.

These terms may still be used, even though no (or very little) dairy is added.

This is an Insight article, written by a selected partner as part of IAM's co-published content. Read more on Insight

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