Belgian soya giant Alpro has had its knuckles rapped by a Dutch court over an advertising campaign that implied soya milk was healthier than cow's milk.
The implication that cow's milk was relatively less healthy because it contained cholesterol, whereas soya milk did not, was disputed as there was little evidence to show dairy milk cholesterol levels were unhealthy to a majority of people.
"Because of the small amount of cholesterol, milk cannot be considered as unhealthy, the more so because the human body needs cholesterol," the court stated. "That milk is unhealthy on other grounds has not been proven."
Magazine and television ads for Alpro Soya Natural Fresh and Yofu products carried the banner: "Your milk with or without cholesterol?"
The challenge was brought by the Dutch Dairy Association (VZO) which said it had been prompted to act by the negativity of the campaign against dairy milk. However, press officer Aad Vernooy admitted VZO had not been confident the verdict would go its way, because similar, if less aggressive, campaigns were running in the UK and Belgium without censure. "The UK and Belgian ads are different because they do not directly attack milk, but you never know how these decisions will go. It was the first time this kind of aggressive tactic had been used [in the Netherlands]," he said.
Alpro agreed to remove the ads and ruled out an appeal despite rejecting the verdict. "Alpro cannot agree with the judge's position that two different products may not be compared with one another. Apart from the fact that Alpro did not intend to position its products as dairy products, it wonders precisely why 'cow milk' and 'soya milk' may not be compared with one another. The judge offers no reasons for this."
Alpro claimed a minor victory in the ruling as the sitting judge did not find fault with the term "soya milk" even though soya and most other non-dairy "milks" have been banned from using the term "milk" under European Union law for almost 20 years. Along with the Brussels-based European Natural Soyfood Manufacturers Association (ENSA), it has focused on this aspect of the ruling and hopes it will reinvigorate efforts to have the law changed.