Mexico moves to stop plant-based use of dairy terms

By Niamh Michail contact

- Last updated on GMT

Popular dairy alternatives can be made with soy, rice, almonds or cashew nuts. © GettyImages/GeorgeTsartsianidis
Popular dairy alternatives can be made with soy, rice, almonds or cashew nuts. © GettyImages/GeorgeTsartsianidis

Related tags: plant-based, Dairy, vegan

Mexican deputies approved a draft bill that prohibits plant-based alternatives from using dairy denominations.

Earlier this month, members of Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies voted in favor of a reform to the Industrial and Federal Property of Consumer Protection law that would tighten rules on misleading advertising, in a bid to prevent plant-based dairy alternatives from using dairy terms, such as soy milk or almond yogurt.

The Chamber of Deputies’ Commission on Livestock proposed a decree that amended articles 90 and 95 of the Industrial Property Law.

The article 90 amendment includes additional restrictions to register trademarks that include references to “phrases, image elements, sentences, notices or commercial names, susceptible to deceive or mislead the public”. ​It also expands what constitutes false or misleading indications, including the composition of products.

The amendment to article 95, meanwhile, includes a provision requiring the applicant to declare that the product or service is free from deception or bad faith. If authorities decide a product does not comply with this requirement, they could render the product's trademark registration invalid.

Deputies approved the law with 433 votes in favor and one abstention. The amendments are now due to be studied and discussed by the Chamber of Senators.

“Considering the overwhelming support in the vote of the Chamber of Deputies, it could be expected that similar support would be received at the Chamber of Senators,” ​David Pineda Ereno, advisor on strategy, policy and regulation and founder of DPE Consulting, told FoodNavigator-LATAM.

'Finally there will be justice'

Legislator and president of the Livestock Commission Eduardo Ron presented the draft bill to the Chamber of Deputies with a glass of milk at his side. “This opinion represents hope for thousands of small, medium and large milk producers, who every day face unfair practices in the market, with companies that sell as milk at a lower price [non-milk products] to the detriment of dairy producers​,” he said.

Following the approval of the draft bill, Ron said: “After a year of hard work, there will finally be justice for our dairy producers.”

Ron said the Livestock Commission’s primary interest was protecting dairy producers but added that the law would also apply to other products, such as sugar-based syrups that have pictures of honey bees on the packaging to create confusion and mislead consumers.

For plant-based manufacturers, however, not being able to use traditional terms to describe their products is misleading for consumers. 

Zahini is a Mexican start-up making coconut yogurt alternatives. Its CEO and co-founder, Paola Reballar, said it is not allowed to market its products as yogurt, and this is confusing to consumers.

"We checked with COFEPRIS [...] and we have to call it ‘fermented coconut food’ and the dairy-free milks are called ‘almond or coconut drinks’. Of course, as a new product category, the name is confusing for consumers,” she said.

In any case, Enero questioned whether amending the Industrial Property Law was the best way to crack down on the use of traditional dairy denominations by plant-based manufacturers.

“It would seem appropriate to analyze whether this approach provides a solution to the issue at hand or if it would also be required to review the labeling regulations in Mexico to accommodate the needs for dairy and plant-based products,” ​he said.

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