The European Court of Justice (ECJ) on 14 June issued an important decision on plant-based foods, noting that they cannot be marketed under “butter”, “milk” or “cheese” names because EU law reserves these for products of animal origin (C-422/16).

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The case regarded a German company which produces vegetarian and vegan foods and distributes them under designations such as ‘tofu butter’, ‘plant cheese’, ‘veggie cheese’ and ‘cream’. The company was sued by an association aimed at combatting unfair competition, alleging that this infringed EU legislation on designations for milk and milk products (EU Regulation no. 1308/13).

In the decision in question, the ECJ, upon referral by the German court in charge of the proceedings, granted the association’s claims stating that the EU legislation at issue reserves the term ‘milk’ only for milk of animal origin. In addition, except where expressly provided, that legislation reserves designations like ‘cream’, ‘butter’ and ‘cheese’ solely for milk products, i.e. products derived from milk. As a consequence, these designations cannot be legally used to label a purely plant-based product, unless that product is mentioned on the list of exceptions, which is not the case for soya or tofu.