What seemed like an April fools joke, an EU proposal is supportive of prohibiting producers of vegan or vegetarian food from labelling their products with words that we normally would associate to animal-based food products. The new proposal backed by the EU’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI) would not allow manufactures of vegan and vegetarian food to use words like ‘sausage’ ‘burger’ or ‘steak’ or even ‘meat alternative’. This is seen as an attack on the vegan and vegetarian food producers as well as on consumers who have been accustomed to buy these products because of the already existing clear labelling of vegan or vegetarian food items. Would a vegan burger be more appealing and clearer to consumers if it were called a soy-and potato-with-beans- shaped-disc rather than using the term burger which has been associated to the type of food for years?
A survey conducted by forsa in Germany, showed a minor 4% of consumers unintentionally bought meat substitutes thinking it was animal-based. The figure is very low and not reflective of generalizing the whole public. The ‘unintentional’ purchase of a product happens also with various other food items such as pasta vs noodles, bananas vs plantains, jam vs jello, ragout vs Ragu’ to name a few.
Ultimately, there is no proof nor concrete studies that demonstrate consumers feeling deceived, or confused by clearly labeled vegan and vegetarian food. On the contrary, clear labelling of vegan steaks or vegetarian schnitzels, makes it easy for consumers to know what they are purchasing and with mandatory ingredients lists, there is no confusing the two.
This ban is clearly motivated by the threat of the meat and dairy industry fueled by the rapidly booming market of plant-based products in Europe. With soaring plant-based innovative products hitting the EU market in full force like the Impossible Burger which ‘bleeds’, the worldwide recognized Beyond Meat burger and patties, these vegan meat products are rising in expansion, recognition and acceptance and are making their mark in supermarkets and partnering with well-known fast food chains and restaurants. What seemed unthinkable before, meat alternatives now mimic the taste, texture and look of animal derived meat without the horrendous animal cruelty involved, nor negative impacts towards the environment which intensive factory farming is. Interestingly however, we are seeing meat producers investing in plant-based companies now more than ever before, which begs the question why vegan steaks, sausage should change their names at all? Banning terms like vegan steaks, burgers or sausage will be taking a step backwards and would damage an already strong and thriving plant-based market and will begin to confuse consumers. Is that what meat producers’ main motive is? It makes no sense when there has never been a problem to fix nor solve because consumers never felt duped by the products they were buying.
Instead of a threat, meat industries should see this as an opportunity and incorporate plant-based products and transitions in areas where possible. Food producers such as Nestle have recognized the need to follow the pockets of growth of where the consumer is, in order to keep growing, hence recently came out with their vegan Incredible burger which is now available at McDonalds nationwide. We have seen a rapid increase of other meat producers also offering vegan and vegetarian ‘meat’ items to keep up with the demand for vegan and vegetarian products all of which are clearly labeled where customers are not fooled.
FOUR PAWS along with other NGOs; Compassion in World Farming-EU; Eurogroup for Animals; European Environmental Bureau; European Vegetarian Union; FOUR PAWS; Humane Society International/Europe; ProVeg International; SAFE-Safe Food Advocacy Europe; The Good Food Institute Europe; and The Vegan Society, urge MEPS to reject proposals to ban plant-based foods from using terms like ‘veggie sausage’, and created a joint open letter which can be found bellow this article.
The proposal is not an EU law yet as it’s not final. it is not currently clear whether the new EU AGRI Committee will want to press ahead with the amendments, or rethink action. The proposals would need to pass through the full EU policy-making process before coming into effect.
This potential ban is completely unnecessary. A right for vegan meat alternatives using terms of what has existed for years, should remain as it is!
By Sonja Svensek Head Of Nutrition at FOUR PAWS International