So the European Court of Justice on 14 June 2017 made a preliminary ruling that dairy terms including milk, cheese, yoghurt or butter cannot be used to describe plant based products, which do not use animal products, in advertising or marketing and maybe therefore cause confusion to consumers, in a case brought against TofuTown by Verband Sozialer Wettbewerb, a German association. There are a limited number of plant based exceptions which the court has allowed including Peanut Butter and Coconut Milk,

Apart from the perspective that both the ECJ and dairy industry are treating customers like idiots who wouldn’t know that soya and almond milk would come from soya or almonds rather than a cow (yawn)…. it seems a rather controlling step by the ECJ to rule in this way.  The list of exceptions themselves surely would evidence that customers are clever enough to know peanut butter isn’t the same as cow butter on their toast!

For clarity, event the English Oxford Living Dictionary gives the following definition of milk, which clearly includes the reference to plant based milks as a commonly used term in modern English – indeed along with cleansing milk which I bet customers dont try to make tea with either!

NOUN: An opaque white fluid rich in fat and protein, secreted by female mammals for the nourishment of their young.

1.1 The milk from cows (or goats or sheep) as consumed by humans. ‘a glass of milk’

1.2 The white juice of certain plants. ‘coconut milk’

1.3 A creamy-textured liquid with a particular ingredient or use. ‘cleansing milk’


Interestingly the court ruled (Part III of Annex VII is entitled ‘Milk and milk products’.):

‘1.      The term “milk” shall mean exclusively the normal mammary secretion obtained from one or more milkings without either addition thereto or extraction therefrom.

Gosh, ‘mammary secretion’ does not sound at all tasty to me – urrrgggghhh!

So unless the ECJ can instruct the Oxford Dictionary to redefine any commonly understood terms, it seems we will have different definitions and understandings.  The same isn’t true for other dairy terms, as OED clearly show these as animal products.

I am sure this wont be the last we hear of this case, so it will be interesting to see how it develops…..