What is the EU’s Amendment 171 (‘dairy ban’) and why is it controversial?

Written by Francesca McClimont

Amendment 171 is a piece of EU legislation that aims to further restrict the terminology that can be used to describe plant-based products. On 19th-22nd October 2020 the European Parliament voted to pass it in the name of clear consumer information.

Regulations already prohibited words such as ‘milk’, ‘yoghurt’ and ‘cheese’ being used in relation to non-dairy products. This new amendment aims to take the law a step further, by banning any “imitation or evocation” of dairy products. What does that mean? Companies will no longer be able to market plant-based products as ‘contains no dairy’, a ‘cheese alternative’ or ‘milk free’. Such terms are considered confusing to consumers.

The amendment, also known as the ‘dairy ban’, is controversial seeing as the EU’s European Green Deal aims to make the bloc climate-neutral by 2050. Most notably, the Green Deal’s sustainable food system initiative, the Farm to Fork Strategy, specifically states that “moving to a plant-based diet […] will reduce not only risks of life-threatening diseases, but also the environmental impact of the food system.” A study published in The Lancet medical journal states that a plant-based diet can reduce one’s carbon footprint by up to 84%.

Swedish plant-based milk company Oatly has been one of the amendment’s most outspoken critics. Its call to reverse the amendment draws on the fact that the premise of the proposal inherently assumes consumers are incapable of telling the difference between mainstream dairy milk and plant-based milk. Their ‘stop plant-based censorship’ page on their website puts it in plain terms: “Are you stupid? The milk lobby thinks you are”.

“Given the climate crisis, it’s irresponsible to try and prevent us from encouraging people to make the switch to plant-based and help protect the planet in the process. People are not stupid – everyone understands that this is an attempt by the dairy lobby to hinder the shift towards sustainable plant-based eating,” says Oatly’s Director of Public Affairs and Sustainable Eating, Cecilia McAleavey.

The European Dairy Association (EDA) has responded favourably to the amendment. In a letter to MEP and member of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development Eric Andrieu, after acknowledging “that this amendment has fuelled quite some debates” they state it “protects the consumer quality expectations and the fairness of the market competition in the dairy sector and beyond.”

Oatly has teamed up with ProVeg International to launch a petition that has received thousands of signatures. ProVeg’s petition states that “[the amendment] would totally counteract the consumer shift to more sustainable eating habits that’s urgently needed to fight climate change.” This amendment could also be deemed counterintuitive in light of the consumer shift in Germany, the EU’s largest economy, where the vegan population has doubled in recent years to 2.6 million.

To add your name to the petition, click here:


Featured image courtesy of Pixabay.com. Image license found here. No changes have been made to this image.

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