This Europe: Consumer boycott of milk firm's 'yoghurt' keeps food war alive alive a sour battle

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The Independent Online

The relations between Catalonia and a giant Spanish milk company from Castile have become curdled in a battle over the definition of yoghurt.

The relations between Catalonia and a giant Spanish milk company from Castile have become curdled in a battle over the definition of yoghurt.

A consumer boycott has bitten into sales of the company's products in Catalonia, which have plunged 25 per cent. Catalan dairy farmers accuse Leche Pascual, based in the Castillian town of Burgos, of falsely marketing a milk dessert as yoghurt.

They say the looser definition is inaccurate and misleading for consumers, since the new sweet does not contain fresh yoghurt's live bacteria, said to benefit the digestive system.

As always in conflicts between Spain's autonomous regions, the struggle revolves around power and money. The new product is damaging producers of traditional fresh yoghurt. The sector is dominated by the multinationals Danone and Nestlé, but includes Spanish producers mainly concentrated in Catalonia.

The European Commission this week ruled that only live fermented milk could be called yoghurt, and anything else was just another dairy pudding.

The row began last year when the government in Madrid ruled that Pascual could describe as "pasteurised yoghurt" a dessert made from yoghurt pasteurised after fermentation. The measure was opposed in parliament by the Catalan nationalist Convergence and Union party. The Catalans said the decision was a political favour granted by Spain's ruling Popular Party, which is very strong in Castile.

Catalonia's regional parliament launched an appeal against the new definition, whereupon Pascual stopped buying Catalan milk, saying it could find cheaper supplies elsewhere.

Leche Pascual buys 35 million litres of milk a year from Catalonia, 7 per cent of the region's output. So last month Catalans began their boycott.

Spain consumes more than 500,000 tons of yoghurt a year, double that of 13 years ago. The industry, based on dairy by-products once thrown away as worthless, now moves €1bn (£670m) a year.

The row was further politicised when two left-wing Catalan parties publicly backed the boycott. Catalonia's President, Jordi Pujol, then personally appealed to Pascual to reconsider its decision not to buy Catalan milk. Pascual, shaken by the impact of a consumer boycott, unprecedented in Spain, appeared to climb down. The company's boss, Tomas Pascual, wrote this week to Catalonia's Agriculture Minister, saying he would reconsider buying Catalan milk, and apologised to anyone who felt offended. But the boycott continues.

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