The Ulster Farmers’ Union says a European court decision on the use of ‘dairy terms’ on products not made from milk has vindicated its stance that these are unfairly promoted by the companies that manufacture them and some retailers. “The court case confirms what we already thought obvious,” says UFU president, Barclay Bell. “Milk is defined as a product from mammals and using the term for substitutes made from plants or other products was never acceptable.”
In the European court case a German company that distributes vegan and vegetarian products sought to justify its advertising described these as butter and cheese. This was challenged by a German organisation that campaigns against unfair competition. The court ruling made clear that terms like butter, cheese, yoghurt and cream can only be used to describe products from an animal.
“Our criticism was never about those who choose vegan or vegetarian products. They have every right to make that lifestyle choice. What concerns us is the suggestion that there can be direct substitutes for dairy products,” says Mr Bell, adding that this is akin to saying margarine is the same as butter. “It is not and never has been. This court decision makes clear that this extends to other products”.
The UFU president says the UFU continues to resent those who seek to denigrate farmers to promote vegan products. “The court ruling will not stop their advertising campaign, should they be prepared to continue funding it. But they can no longer tell consumers that there are alternatives that are the same. Dairy products are nutritious and special – and this now has the backing of the European court to prevent unfair advertising.”
The UFU says it will bring the court ruling to the attention of the major retailers, reminding them of their responsibilities to ensure consumers are not misled. It also says it will be urging farm families to keep an eye on shelves to ensure that product descriptions and placing meet the standards set by the European court. “This should have been happening all along – but now farmers have the weight of a court decision to ensure that when a product is described as milk, butter cheese or yoghurt it comes from an animal, not a plant,” said Mr Bell.