With the news cycle flooded with the latest figures and restrictions around the Coronavirus, you would be excused if you missed this news story.

Last week, the European Parliament voted to reject a ‘veggie burger ban’ that would forbid companies selling vegan products from using meat-related terms like ‘burger’. That seems fair enough – this amendment protects consumers from confusion around meat and vegan products. However, in a surprising turn of events, MEPs voted in favour of another, very similar amendment known as ‘the dairy ban’.

At present, EU law already prevents companies selling dairy alternatives from using terms such as “almond milk” or “vegan cheese”.

However, this amendment takes this law to a whole new level, banning such companies from using dairy-based product terms as descriptive words – even in the case of “cheese alternative” or “yoghurt style dessert”. Further, the amendment could also prevent the use of typical dairy product packaging for non-dairy items, such as milk cartons or butter blocks.

Consumer protection gone too far?

Unsurprisingly, the news was welcomed by those in the dairy industry – no longer will non-dairy competitors be able to hijack their terms to sell their products. However, for those in the plant-based dairy sector, the amendment is a major blow that many say has gone too far.

The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) has said it is a ‘pity’ that MEPs have approved such ‘unnecessary’ restrictions for the naming of plant-based dairy alternatives. Moreover, senior food policy officer Camille Perrin said BEUC is now looking to the European Council to oppose the move which she said, “has nothing to do with consumer protection.”

A social media post from the oat milk – or should we say, oat drink – company Oatly, captured the sentiment felt by the sector:

“It’s an incomprehensible decision direction to take in the middle of a climate crisis. Especially since the amendment runs contrary to the EU’s own climate goals.”

“How will consumers now be able to easily compare different food products in order to make informed decision about what they eat?”

Does the dairy ban contradict climate goals?

The climate goals referred to hark to the targets set by the European Commission in their Roadmap for moving to a competitive low-carbon economy in 2050, particularly a 20% reduction in GHG emissions from the agricultural sector by 2025.

At present, the biggest dairy companies in the world have the same combined greenhouse gas emissions as the UK, the sixth biggest economy in the world. Overproduction creates low prices and combined with the marketing prowess of the major players in the diary sector, demand is supercharged, exacerbating the problem entirely.

The decision also contradicts the EU’S stated objectives set in the Green New Deal and Farm to Fork Strategy. These see to ‘create healthier and more sustainable food systems. In particular, the strategy states that consumers should be empowered to “choose sustainable food” and that it should be easier to “choose healthy and sustainable diets.”

Why MEPs chose to save the veggie burger but not the cheese alternative is anyone’s guess. Now, the onus falls to national leaders on the European Council and European Commission to clear up the confusion and reject unnecessary restrictions on dairy alternatives.

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