European rules threaten to ban milk cartons for vegan dairy alternatives

Oatly, een van de producenten van zuivelalternatieven op basis van haver
Maddie Red /

The dairy industry is continuing its campaign against vegan alternatives for their products, like oat milk. A new set of rules, known as Amendment 171, would make it impossible for producers of such dairy alternatives to use similar packagings, such as yoghurt tubs or milk cartons.


'Creamy' or 'contains no milk' no longer allowed

Oatly, among others, is campaigning fiercely against the new rules. If interpreted in the broadest sense, they would make it impossible to use visual elements or terms that could refer to dairy products on the packaging of their products. Even terms like "creamy" or "does not contain milk" would be prohibited. The new rules would also prohibit the use of packaging types that could be seen as reminiscent of dairy products, such as milk cartons.


The arguments of the dairy industry, which lobbied heavily for Amendment 171, all revolve around consumer protection. According to the producers, consumers could be misled about the exact nature of the product they are buying. They refer to similar rules on falsified health claims or regional names (think of champagne or feta cheese).


The producers of the vegan products argue that the rules would result in them having to completely change brand names, product names and marketing strategy. An expensive undertaking. For this reason, Oatly launched a petition together with Upfield (known for Flora margarine) and the NGO ProVeg International, to convince the EU to drop the new rules.


Uppercut after an earlier ban on 'milk' and 'yoghurt'

The European already approved Amendment 171 in October. It is now on the table at the European Council, which will decide on it during so-called trilogue meetings with the European Commission and the Parliament.


If the European Council agrees to the proposal, it will be a new upheaval for the sector of vegan dairy alternatives. In 2017, the European Court of Justice already ruled that they can no longer use terms like milk (like oat milk) or yoghurt (like soy yoghurt) to describe their products. 


It is a new battle in a lingering war between the traditional dairy industry, already impressively large but still growing, and its challenger that threatens to walk away with a portion of that growth.