Imitation dairy: got milk?

The news of the EU ban on the use of dairy-product terms such as ‘milk’, ‘yoghurt’ and ‘butter’ for their imitation or plant-based counterparts has generated a lot of interest – and confusion. But what is the situation in the South African market? And is this a potential change to regulations that industry should start planning for?

The EU ban:

The confusion surrounding the EU ban is primarily due to the ban only being applicable to imitation dairy products. The lack of restriction on the use of terms for plant-based alternatives to raw processed meat products seems to be somewhat of a ‘double standard’ as far as  industry is concerned. Another question is whether the consumer will understand the intended use of a plant-based milk, if the manufacturer is not permitted to call it ‘milk’?

How must imitation dairy products be labelled in SA?

In South Africa, all products in this category must be labelled according to the Regulations Relating to the Classification, Packing and Marking of Dairy and Imitation Dairy products (R.1510), published in November 2019. The regulation permits the use of terms such as ‘milk’, ‘yoghurt’ and ‘cheese’ for imitation counterparts.

What about plant-based meat alternatives in SA?

The regulations do not currently address imitation meat products at all. However, it is generally regarded as ‘typical practice’ to use terms such as ‘sausage’ or ‘patty’ to describe meat-free alternatives, provided the name does not mislead the consumer by not adequately emphasising the plant-based nature of the product.

Why the fuss?

The reasons for the publication of the ruling in the EU are twofold:

  1. Often the plant-based versions of the dairy products are not as nutrient-dense as mammalian dairy products. This specifically relates to the protein content.
  2. The use of the same terms is not in the best interests of the dairy industry, and could potentially be seen as creating unfair competition.

Currently, in SA, we are permitted to use all of the ‘animal version’ terms for their plant-based alternatives. However, following the EU ruling (and general concern from the regulators, and from the dairy industry) we must always be alert, as this may change at any time.

For labelling and regulatory assistance, contact FACTS.