The EU’s Court of Justice has ruled that plant-based products cannot be marketed with dairy descriptions such as ‘milk’, ‘cream’, ‘butter’, ‘cheese’ or ‘yoghurt’.

The ruling on 14 June said these designations were reserved by EU law for animal products only even if descriptions were used to clarify the plant origin of the product, according to Dairy Reporter.

The decision follows an action brought against Germany’s TofuTown.com, which produces and distributes vegetarian and vegan foods such as ‘Soyatoo Tofu butter’, ‘plant cheese’ and ‘veggie cheese’.

German competition association Verband Sozialer Wettbewerb eV alleged that promoting products in this way infringed EU legislation on designations for milk and milk products, Dairy Reporter said.

However, TofuTown argued that it did not use ‘butter’ or ‘cream’ descriptions on their own but always in association with words referring to the plant origin, such as ‘tofu butter’ and that the way in which consumers understood those designations had changed considerably in recent years.

The court ruled that dairy designations could not be legally used for marketing and advertising purposes for purely plant-based products unless that product was mentioned on the list of exceptions, which was not the case for soya or tofu, Dairy Reporter said.

European Dairy Association secretary general Alexander Anton was quoted in the report as saying that the decision was “a good day for dairy”.

“The unique and natural blend of micro- and macronutrients of milk and dairy products cannot be matched by any plant-based products,” he said.

The European Vegetarian Union said the court’s interpretation contradicted consumer perception and everyday language.