Unprecedented restrictions on plant-based dairy threaten EU sustainability plans, environmentalists warn
22 June 2021
A coalition of 21 environmental, consumer and animal welfare groups has called on the European Commission and EU member states to reject Amendment 171 – an “unprecedented” ban on plant-based dairy products displaying allergen information, being sold in cartons and using images of their own products.
A coalition of 21 environmental, consumer and animal welfare groups has called on the European Commission and EU member states to reject an “unprecedented” ban on plant-based dairy products displaying allergen information, being sold in cartons and using images of their own products.
In a joint letter coordinated by the Good Food Institute Europe and ProVeg International, the groups argue that the plans, in a proposed amendment to the reformed Common Agricultural Policy, would directly contradict an EU pledge to promote more plant-based diets as part of its Farm to Fork food sustainability strategy. The proposals could also deprive consumers of essential allergen information and cause confusion by forcing companies to use “unnatural linguistic contortions” to describe their products.
The letter was signed by the Good Food Institute Europe, ProVeg International, Greenpeace, WWF Europe, the European Environmental Bureau, Food Watch, Safe Food Advocacy Europe, Verbraucherschutzverein (Austrian Consumers Organisation), Bond Beter Leefmilieu, Compassion in World Farming, Česká veganská společnost, Dier&Recht, Essere Animali, Eurogroup for Animals, European Vegetarian Union, Humane Society International, Vegane Gesellschaft Österreich, The Vegan Society, Vegetarian Society of Denmark, Wakker Dier and World Animal Protection.
Far from reinstating existing laws, by banning any “direct or indirect use” or “evocation” of dairy products, Amendment 171 would introduce new restrictions preventing plant-based dairy products from:
- Providing essential health and allergen information such as “lactose-free alternative to dairy milk”.
- Using packaging that is similar to those used for dairy products, such as cartons.
- Using images of the product being poured at a breakfast table, or white foam swirling in a cappuccino.
- Informing consumers about the climate impact of foods, such as by comparing the carbon footprint of plant-based and conventional dairy.
- Using helpful descriptors such as “creamy” or “buttery”.
A majority of Members of the European Parliament voted in favour of the proposed restrictions in October 2020 – but they remain subject to negotiations with the European Commission and EU member states at trilogues expected in April.
The letter also calls on the European Commission and member states to oppose Amendment 72 – a vaguely-worded proposal that would introduce significant legal uncertainty that could jeopardise the labelling of plant-based foods in the future.
The signatories warn that these new restrictions go significantly further than existing EU law, which already bans plant-based dairy products from using terms like “milk” and “cheese”.
Plant-based foods key to reaching EU climate targets
They argue that encouraging the broader uptake of plant-based diets is key to achieving the EU’s emissions targets, reducing land and water use, and preventing further destruction of global biodiversity.
Agriculture is responsible for 10.3% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 70% of those come from the animal sector. The groups cite a recent study by the University of Oxford which found that, without reducing the world’s reliance on animal agriculture, it will be impossible to meet the Paris climate agreement.
Elena Walden, policy manager at the Good Food Institute Europe, said: “Banning milk cartons, product imagery and essential allergen information would be nonsensical at the best of times.
“But as the EU sets world-leading climate targets and aims for a green recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, imposing such unprecedented restrictions on sustainable plant-based dairy options would be a serious failing.
“National leaders on the Council of the EU must reject this regulatory overstep and focus on supporting consumers to make more sustainable choices.”
Jasmijn de Boo, Vice President of ProVeg International, said: “We should not need to campaign against this. Decision-makers should be making green choices easier for consumers, or at the very least not making sustainable shopping harder than it already is. Passing Amendment 171 will simply create further obstacles, and for what? There is no confusion. This is clear and simple censorship and must be challenged as such.”