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Is the marketing statement "our cheese is made of 100% plant ingredients" false advertising and is it legal?

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  • 4
    Often companies will use alternative spellings, like "cheeze" to distinguish, but what if they don't?
    – Ohan
    Jan 19 at 0:21
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    Isn't even cow-produced cheese made of 100% plant ingredients, originally? hmm Jan 19 at 4:38
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    @AzorAhai-him- if you wanna be a smartass, then yes, but in most contexts: no
    – Hobbamok
    Jan 19 at 10:01
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    Just a general note: the regulations on this kind of question depend heavily on the jurisdiction. You specified UK and the answers are for the UK but they cannot easily be generalized to other jurisdictions.
    – quarague
    Jan 19 at 12:12
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    Note that the question title "without qualification" does not match the question body, which does have such qualification.
    – Ben Voigt
    Jan 19 at 16:16

5 Answers 5

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In EU there is legislation against using the name "cheese" for non.diary products. This was unsuccessfully challenged in 2017 by company Tofutown:

https://curia.europa.eu/jcms/upload/docs/application/pdf/2017-06/cp170063de.pdf [press release, DE]

https://curia.europa.eu/juris/documents.jsf?num=C-422/16 [full case, EN]

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    Is it accurate to say that until there will have been an explicit piece of legislation to overturn the EU precedent, it will still be effective in the UK post-Brexit?
    – Ohan
    Jan 20 at 11:07
  • In the Netherlands we have a product called Pindakaas (Peanut cheese), which is just peanut butter (which does not contain diary). This does not seem to be inline with the legislation Jan 20 at 13:55
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    @SirDuckduck I don't know, "peanut cheese" seems clearly "not cheese" to me...
    – TylerH
    Jan 20 at 14:34
  • The second link is not EN for everyone. It chooses the language according to your location (at least according to your EU country). From what I can read in the Czech version, the terms in the verdict are "milk" and "milk products" or "dairy products", and the implication to other terms mentioned in the original submission in point 3 is not clear to me. Jan 20 at 15:15
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    @TylerH the law allows some exceptions (see footnote 2 of the press release), which are listed in this document. "Pindakaas" is listed there, as are other common terms like "coconut milk". This list of exceptions might also be a good addition to the answer.
    – wimi
    Jan 20 at 21:55
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The government guidelines on naming food products states that if an ingredient is different to what consumers expect, it must be made clear by either:

  • including the ingredient as part of the product’s name

  • stating the ingredient close to the product’s name on the label

For example, if a pesto sauce has been made with parsley instead of the traditional basil, the product must either be:

  • called ‘parsley pesto sauce’

  • have the ingredient ‘parsley’ stated next to or directly under the product name

So, it seems that the phrases like "our cheese is made of 100% plant ingredients" or "plant based cheese" (without quotation marks or asterisks) are compliant with these conditions.

As an aside, the names of 15 cheeses are legally protected, but this relates to their geographical origins - not the product’s actual ingredients.

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    It's interesting that they use the example of "pesto sauce", because in everyday usage in the UK the product usually sold in jars is just labelled and referred to as "pesto" (unlike in the US), and "pesto sauce" would colloquially refer to a sauce of which pesto was a major ingredient.
    – Chris H
    Jan 19 at 10:18
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    How clear are you on the ingredients side? The product specifications for (e.g) West Country Farmhouse Cheddar state it "is made from cows’ milk produced predominantly in the designated area, which may or may not have been pasteurised", which would preclude a vegan substitute (as well as using milk from a different mammal).
    – origimbo
    Jan 19 at 12:54
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    @SeanDuggan That's for the US. In Switzerland and the EU, (Swiss) Gruyère and French Gruyère are still protected. Jan 19 at 14:51
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    @ChrisH No, that's pretty much true in the US as well. Straight pesto as sold in jars can be referred to as either "pesto" or "pesto sauce", but "pesto sauce" might also refer to a sauce containing pesto, though it might be more qualified, e.g. a "pesto cream sauce" or "pesto marinara sauce", when mixed with cream or marinara sauces, respectively. Anyhow, "pesto" is basically just Italian for "paste" - anything produced by pounding in a pestle. There's no requirement for it to contain basil, that's just the most common usage. Jan 19 at 17:18
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    This appears to be the definitively correct answer.
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 21 at 19:07
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I'll limit my answer to the specific example in the question:

our cheese is made of 100% plant ingredients

This is not false advertising or a deceptive trade practice. It is legal. This is because the statement itself is in the form of a definition of "our cheese", and discloses on its face in a way that avoids any possibility of confusion that it is not "cheese" as defined as an animal. milk curd product.

It is also not false advertising because it uses the word "cheese" in one of its accepted plain meanings.

More generally, words almost always have multiple meanings in the English language. For example, the Merriam-Webster dictionary has the following six different meanings (of which definition 2 of entry 1 is the sense in which it is used in the quoted material in the question):

cheese noun (1), often attributive \ ˈchēz \

Definition of cheese (Entry 1 of 3)

1a: a food consisting of the coagulated, compressed, and usually ripened curd of milk separated from the whey

b: an often cylindrical cake of this food

2: something resembling cheese in shape or consistency

3: something cheap or shabby : cheesy material //cinematic cheese

cheese verb

cheesed; cheesing

Definition of cheese (Entry 2 of 3) transitive verb

: to put an end to : STOP cheese it —used in the imperative as a warning of danger cheese it, the cops

cheese noun (2)

Definition of cheese (Entry 3 of 3) slang

: someone important

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    This answer does not address the possibility that consumer product labeling law in the UK might set some restrictions on the use of the word "cheese." I don't know whether it's the case, but it seems likely (less likely since Brexit, perhaps, but still likely).
    – phoog
    Jan 19 at 8:04
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    Note the existence for many years of "fruit cheese", essentially a jelly that resembles cheese in consistency.
    – Chris H
    Jan 19 at 10:16
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    @phoog Even if there was a consumer labeling law, the full sentence taken as a whole almost surely not offend it, as it might had the word "cheese" been used for a non-dairy product in a label without contemporaneous disclosure of the less common manner in which it was being used.
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 19 at 22:26
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    @dotancohen can you find an authoritative dictionary that doesn't include the bolded definition?
    – phoog
    Jan 20 at 10:23
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    That bolded second meaning is rather hilarious in how it's a bit circular, and also in that it actually says that cheese can be used to mean something that's not cheese.
    – ilkkachu
    Jan 20 at 11:05
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I am not a lawyer (and thus I may be misinterpreting the regulations), and I do not know if the UK law in this area has changed since leaving the EU, but it appears that this may not be legal due to EU legislation, most of which I believe was transcribed directly into UK law.

Labelling of milk and milk products from the Food Safety Authority of states that:

Regulation (EU) No 1308/2013 defines "Milk" as meaning exclusively the normal mammary secretion obtained from one or more milkings without either addition thereto or extraction therefrom.

and furthermore:

Regulation (EU) No 1308/2013 reserves the following names exclusively for milk products

(a) the following names used at all stages of marketing:

... cheese ...

Reading the page further, there is a link to Decision 2010/791/EU which permits an exemption for "Fruit cheese (for example, lemon cheese, Damson cheese)"

However, there does appear to be another exception which may be applicable, although the legalese is so dense in this section I can't fully follow it:

As an exception, this principle is not applicable to the description of products the exact nature of which is known because of traditional use and/or when the designations are clearly used to describe a characteristic quality of the product.

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  • I share this opinion, that EU regulations doesn't allow the use of the term 'cheese' for vegan variants of it. Nevertheless, after the Brexit, possibly it's not part of UK's law anymore. Additionally, I also believe that protected geographical indication (PGI) are not part of UK law anymore. If that's true, you could lable it with Gruyère (like US is doing it)
    – Chris
    Jan 19 at 14:33
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    If that's the case, EU regulators aren't enforcing it as a quick Google search finds multiple European high street and artisan outlets advertising vegan / dairy- free etc cheese
    – Rick
    Jan 19 at 14:50
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    It appears that UK law mimics EU law here, as the EU have accepted it in Implementing Regulation 2020/2102 (See preamble paragraph 3). Jan 19 at 17:45
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    In the US "Almond Milk" and "Soy Milk" are very common terms. What's the UK equivalent?
    – Chuu
    Jan 19 at 19:00
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    @Chuu "Almond Drink" and "Soya Drink" (at least on packaging) - in everyday language "Almond Milk" and "Soya Milk" are still used - see also: tesco.com/groceries/en-GB/shop/fresh-food/… Jan 19 at 20:00
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This question is currently tagged .

In British English the words "cheese" or "curd" simply refer to different stages of a thickened or coagulated liquid.

While the most common type of "cheese" with which most people are familiar is a dairy or milk cheese, there are other types of cheeses and curds available — most notably various fruit preserves, separate and distinct from jams, marmalades, or chutneys. For example, Lemon Curd, or Damson Cheese.

As such, the use of the word "cheese" to refer to a a product produced by coagulating plant products is just as valid as using the word "bicycle" to refer to a Penny-Farthing: it's simply not what you are used to, or instinctively think of when you hear the word.

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