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Soya Milk Saga by Arthur Ling, Vegan Views 69 (Summer 1995)

Mark Watts, MEP, achieves a virtually impossible task of rescuing the UK government.

A few days ago the EC Commission confirmed that it is to take the UK Government before the European Court for continuing to allow the title of "soya milk". This follows an impasse since 1987 between the Commission and the UK Government, following the EC Regulation "on the protection of designations used in marketing of milk and milk products". The UK Government has consistently taken the line that the title "soya milk" fully conforms with the exemption clause in the Regulation.

Mark Watts (MEP for East Kent) in conjunction with Arthur Ling of Plamil (the Folkestone soya milk manufacturer), has been working on the case and in February convened a seminar of the 87 UK MEPs to brief them in the matter. As a result of that seminar over 70 UK MEPs representing 50 million UK citizens, signed a petition requesting that the Commission's Agricultural Commissioner withdraws the threat of taking the UK Government to Court. This petition was presented to the Commissioner on 11 July with a delegation of MEPs led by Mark Watts, Dr. Caroline Jackson (MEP for Wiltshire), David Hallam (Shropshire) and Robert Sturdy (Cambridgeshire), accompanied by John Moyes of Vandermoortele, London and Arthur Ling (representing the industry).

Inside the Commissioner's room in the Euro Parliament in Strasbourg, there was a frank interchange of views between the Commissioner and members of the delegation, and after a lengthy discussion the Commissioner eventually volunteered to reconsider the issue and accepted that the delegation had put points to him of which he was previously unaware.

The European Commission is seeking to force the UK to ban the term 'soya milk' because an EU committee of civil servants doubts that the consumers can tell the difference with cow's milk. Soya Milk has been on sale in the UK for over 30 years; it is bought precisely because they know what it is.

Even the National Dairy Council questions the argument that consumers could be confused between soya and cow's milk. A spokesperson commented "We think the consumer is a bit brighter then that".

Dr. Caroline Jackson says: "This dispute has been blown out of all proportion. The Commission says it's OK to sell all sorts of things like 'almond milk' - but not 'soya milk'. The Commission must be consistent".

Stephen Crompton of the 'Consumers in Europe' Group says: "We are unaware of any evidence that UK consumers have been misled into believing that soya milk is a dairy product. We believe that the name 'soya milk' is well established and that calling it something else will cause confusion".

Mark Watts says: "When the EU Milk Management Committee makes such important decisions, it meets behind closed doors with no scrutiny from the Parliament. This cannot be permitted to continue". Agriculture Minister Angela Browning says: "If they succeed where we have failed then nobody will be more pleased then me!".

The UK Government had been kept informed of the delegation, and of its outcome, and a follow up meeting with the Parliamentary Secretary to MAFF is to take place soon led by Mark Watts and Dr. Caroline Jackson.

Mark Watts has therefore worked hard not only for local industry, because the outcome of his very effective work benefits traders and consumers throughout the UK.

Since this article, the 'Soya Milk' labelling was banned by the EC. It is now labelled 'Soya - alternative to dairy milk'

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Cross-reference: Soya Milk