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UK could ban plant-based products using terms like ‘cheese’ on labels

Dairy UK argues that nods to dairy products in plant-based product descriptions will mislead consumers and should be seen as ‘marketing malpractice’  (Pexels)
Dairy UK argues that nods to dairy products in plant-based product descriptions will mislead consumers and should be seen as ‘marketing malpractice’ (Pexels)

Following years of dairy industry lobbying, new guidance could prohibit plant-based products from using terms such as “cheese” and “yoghurt” to describe themselves even if they preface them with “vegan” or “plant-based”.

Such products are already banned from describing themselves as “milk”, “not milk”, or using homophones and misspellings like “mylk”. With the proposed new regulations, which are reportedly in the draft phase, similar rules would apply to cheese and yoghurt alternatives. This would see phrases such as “yoghurt-style” and “cheddar-like” outlawed, too.

Unearthed reported that guidance was being prepared to help trading standards officers interpret and enforce laws on how dairy alternatives are described in packaging and marketing.

Unearthed said Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) this week contacted plant-based companies, telling them that the “responsibility for enforcement of the law on dairy labelling and marketing standards lies solely with local authorities and the Trading Standards Officers acting on their behalf”.

Documents obtained by Unearthed show that Dairy UK, a trade association that calls itself the “voice of the dairy industry” and includes members such as Arla Foods, has been lobbying for tougher plant-based guidelines for a while.

One committee meeting’s notes reveal that Defra asked Dairy UK to create a briefing paper “to send to the UK’s Enforcement Focus Group in order to have an approved UK position paper clarifying the protection of dairy terms”.

Dairy UK argues that nods to dairy products in plant-based product descriptions will mislead consumers and should be seen as “marketing malpractice”.

Unearthed reported that the CEO of the Plant Based Food Alliance UK, Marisa Heath, thought that this was not the case at all. Ms Heath reportedly said: “This move will make us one of the most draconian nations in regards to what we can and cannot call these sorts of products.

“It does not send out the message that we are a good place for businesses to innovate, manufacture and retail in this sector and it seems odd that post-Brexit, we want to use EU regulations to create as much restriction and red tape on business as we can after having not enforced this for 10 years.

“Consumers know what they are buying and they are not stupid; it should be left to them to make their choices in the supermarket.”