Between Cheese sounding and Meat sounding, the uncertain line of legality


Cheese sounding, Meat sounding? The EU Court of Justice has drastically ruled out the former; the European Commission persists in ignoring the latter. The line of legality remains uncertain, although it deserves some considerations.

Cheese Sounding

The EU Court of Justice, in a ruling June 14, 2017, (1) clarified that labels of plant-based foods cannot bear the names of dairy products.

The rationale is simple, avoid confusion between milk and beverages made from soy or rice, oats or other grains. Also avoid the misunderstanding between a cheese and a tofu-based vegetable preparation. Based on a European regulation reserving the possibility of using the relevant names for dairy products only. (2)

Meat sounding

The same logic should prevent recalling the names of meats of different animal species-as well as their cuts, meat preparations and processed meats-on foods of plant origin. But the situation is not quite the same as Cheese sounding.

The names of meat products are not hinged in special regulations delimiting their use. The European Parliament – through the voice of Hon. Paolo De Castro, former Italian Minister of Agriculture – has repeatedly urged the European Commission to fill this legislative gap.

The uncertain line of legality

Consumer information on food products must be clear and unambiguous. The Court of Justice, in the Cheese sounding case, has therefore ruled that it is unlawful to use names evocative of dairy products, even if they are accompanied by terms such as ‘vegetable’ or ‘vegan’.

EU Regulation 1169/11 has the primary objective of ensuring that consumers, through mandatory information, can identify foods. With a view to their‘appropriate use‘ and‘choices suited to individual dietary needs‘. (3)

Identifying the product with an inherently contradictory phrase (e.g., vegetarian stew), on the label front, is not at all compatible with the general criteria above.

It is therefore necessary to reconsider the use of (poor) fancy names as meaningless to the consumer, who rather needs far more essential news. To understand what vegetarian or vegan food is actually being offered to them.

Avoiding if possible to look at the affair superficially, as if it were a derby between omnivores and herbivores, each with its fans between journalism and politics. Because transparent labels really serve everyone.

Dario Dongo


(1) Case C-422-2016

(2) Reg. EU 1308/13, so-called CMO (Common Market Organization).

(3) See reg. EU 1169/11, recital 12, articles 3-4



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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.