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Amendment 171: Backtracking Advancements and Plant-based Censorship

written by Giovana Bressan.

Not a novel fact: The Earth is running low on natural resources due to overconsumption and overproduction to meet humanity’s exorbitant demands. While not a newly known fact (rather: this has been known for decades) little action has been taken worldwide that could account for substantial changes. The European Union (EU), however, is proud of its track-records when it comes to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) established by the UN in 2015. This satisfaction regards, amongst others, stable economies, professional and educational opportunities and ecological shifts. The latter is considered to be the ultimate priority on the EU's agenda since 2019, as the European Commission representatives acknowledge that the depletion of resources is threatening humanity's "ability to meet the needs of future generations within the limits of our planet".

But, where is the focus?

While the EU certainly takes into account that the SDGs must be met to develop a sustainable future, it mainly focuses on renewable energy highlighting how the 27 member countries of the EU are improving their energy sources and are shifting towards renewable ones in order to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. What is the problem here? While renewable energy is, without a doubt, an important aspect, climate scientists have proven that the energy sector, although massively harmful for the planet, is not the largest responsible sector for climate change. Proportionally, the meat and dairy industry accounts for much larger harm. Interestingly, while the EU describes itself as prioritizing the reversal of the ecological debt, their main focus is not on the major climate threat. Not only does the EU seem to be ignoring environmental consequences stemming from the meat and dairy industry, but also takes strides into the opposite direction where a direct, focused approach would inevitably forge the better outcomes. Although not exactly stated in the EU's sustainable framework proposed by the European Commission, the EU does encourage the population to follow a more sustainable (and hence healthier) diet, with more plant-based options. This stimulus can be seen by the EU's investments in ecological plantations and the assurance of accessible plant-based products over the member countries.

What's in a name? Certainly, a lot.

Now let’s take a closer look on where the confusion of identifying more imminent threats comes from. For the EU, that seems to be alleged consumer confusion. The European Parliament voted for an amendment in October 2020 which might hamper the adherence to plant-based products and diets, making veg-curious consumers go astray. While the proportion of vegans in the EU doubled within the last four years, Amendment 171 concerns the banning of the use of dairy-like terminology for vegan merchandise. What’s in a name? Certainly, a lot. In essence, Amendment 171 implies that references to traditional dairy products would be made illegal. In this sense, a plant-based yoghurt can no longer be called a [insert alternative] yoghurt and almond milk can no longer be called almond milk. “Creamy texture”? No more. “Alternative to [yoghurt, cream cheese, milk]“? Nope. “Doesn’t contain milk” – well, these facts cannot be printed onto products anymore that… do not contain milk. The amendment goes even a step further: The packaging of vegan products might also be forbidden to look like packaging of non-vegan options. So, what do we do with traditional oat milk cartons? They might need to turn into hexagons. What is more is that vegan producers would also be prohibited to discuss environmental or health-related advantages of vegan alternatives in comparison to traditional dairy products. Since veganism has been proven to be advantageous when it comes to improving one’s environmental footprint, an amendment that might seem superficial and trivial to some is actually very controversial and puts the EU into a dark spotlight when it comes to sustainability.

Going contrary to its ambition to encourage the consumption of plant-based foods, the EU also runs against its sustainable goals. The ban of dairy-like terminology on vegan products hinders purchase as people can no longer relate the sustainable options to their familiar standard foods. Such terminology is necessary to encourage people to buy a similar option to what they already are acquainted with and banning them impacts not only the planet, as less plant-based products might be bought, but also the marketing of small vegan brands. So, what do we protect consumers from here? Is it actual confusion, or transparent information? In turn, not only are local economies impacted, but profits and benefits fly right into the pockets of the dairy industry. As a matter of fact, plant-based brands have been protesting the amendment since before its approval, indicating how it would tremendously disadvantage their businesses and the population's conveyance to greener consumption habits.

Adding to that, with a rising community of environmentalist activists throughout Europe and more information available, polemic decisions like this draw attention to the question whether the EU can act in favor of all citizens and nations and more importantly, in favor of the worlds’ needs.


To top it off, the case of Amendment 171 was mainly reported in social media and independent news sources, as the mainstream media did not seem to have given the deserved importance to it. (Just type in Amendment 171 in Google news and you'll see.) As a result, a bigger parcel of the European population might continue to remain unaware of the amendment, being even more susceptible to overlook the plant-based options that can replace dairy products - and ultimately remain clueless about their existence.

In short, besides the consequences that this ban has, the EU went against its own ecological principles when voting for it. Allegedly, the vote was casted to benefit the European Dairy Association (EDA) and the dairy industries across Europe, as these believe that the use of dairy terms in non-dairy products compromises the reputation of milky foods and causes consumer confusion. However, what the EU did not take into consideration was its own position towards animal-based products and its efforts to encourage a more conscious consumption. In that sense, the advancement of the responsible consumption that is repeatedly emphasized by the UN, accounting for SDG 12, is held back in the EU.

All in all, what drags people's attention is that in the middle of a climate crisis, not to mention the economic and health crisis Covid-19 has brought, the European Parliament voted for an amendment that backtracks the advancements that were being achieved. What we are looking for as consumers is climate leadership and environmental responsibility. In essence, the EU should seek to tear down bureaucratic barriers, but by voting for Amendment 171 it built them up even higher.

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