15.06.2017 – EU Court of Justice rules that terms “milk”, “butter”, “cream” and “yoghurt” can no longer be used to describe Plant-Based alternatives to dairy products

FOUR PAWS dismayed by the decision which goes against common sense

On June 14th 2017, the EU Court of Justice of the European Union decided (1) that using names commonly associated with dairy products to describe plant-based alternatives such as “soya-butter”, “rice-cream” or “soya-milk”, can lead to confusion among consumers and should therefore be considered contrary to EU legislation.

The original legal complaint was issued by German competition association Verband Sozialer Wettbewerb (VSW), against Tofutown, a vegan company. In particular, VSW used EU Regulation 1308/2013, which defines the characteristics and the terms that may be used within the EU for marketing a product, to support their case that terms such as “butter”, “cream” or “milk” should only be used in relation to dairy products.

However, Tofutown argued that the terms could not mislead the consumers, as they were always associated to other words, referring to plant-based origin products (such as soya-milk or rice-cream). The Court based its decision on the annexes of the EU Regulation No 1308/2013, in which milk is defined: “an animal product”, designating “exclusively the normal mammary secretion obtained from one or more milkings without either addition thereto or extraction therefrom”.

Pierre Sultana, Director of the FOUR PAWS’ European Policy Office commented on the decision: “The Commission has already set up exceptions to the use of terms such as “milk” or “butter”, in a separate Regulation (2). What justification is there for allowing the use of words for products such as “Ice-cream”, “nut butter” or “fruit cheese” containing no dairy products, but not for Soya-milk?

This regulation implemented by the court, is clearly financially and economically driven, because plant-based products alternative to milk products, have been on the market for many years,” said Sonja Svensek, Head of Nutrition in FOUR PAWS International’s Farm Animals & Nutrition department. “Since these products are made and produced to look and taste like their animal derived counterparts, they should be allowed to be marketed according to similar selling principles”.

This ruling has immediate effect and all companies manufacturing vegan products must comply to it, forcing them to rename their products as soon as possible. The only solution would be for the Member States to update these Plant-Based alternatives to dairy products in the derogation list of the regulation (2).


(1) Case C‑422/16, Case C‑422/16, Verband Sozialer Wettbewerb eV v TofuTown.com GmbH, 14.06.2017

(2) Annex I to Commission Decision 2010/791/EU of 20 December 2010 listing the products referred to in the second subparagraph of point III(1) of Annex XII to Council Regulation (EC) No 1234/2007