Silly sausages? German Ag Minister criticises vegetarian products with meaty names

By Niamh Michail

- Last updated on GMT

Oxymoron? Currywurst is one of the worst offenders, according to Schmidt. © iStock/gkrphoto
Oxymoron? Currywurst is one of the worst offenders, according to Schmidt. © iStock/gkrphoto

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Germany’s agriculture minister Christian Schmidt has weighed in on the debate surrounding plant-based alternatives using meat names, calling them "completely misleading" - but the European Commission seems reluctant to act.

Schmidt, a member of the centre-right Christian Social Union (CSU) party focussed his attention on vegetarian curry wurst, a typical German Bratwurst sausage sliced and covered in curry sauce, and vegan schnitzel, telling German daily tabloid newspaper Bild ​last week the terms were “completely misleading and unsettle consumers”.

“I favour them being banned in the interest of clear consumer labelling. I do not want us to pretend that these pseudo-meat dishes are meat dishes.”

This is not the first time Schmidt has spoken out against mock meat. In June last year he demanded clear labelling of vegetarian and vegan products in a letter to EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis, as did Renate Sommer in May.

This was then reiterated by Italian MEPs – Paolo de Castro, former chair of the European Parliament's Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development and Giovanni La Via, who currently chairs the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) – who sent a written question​ ​to the Commission in October. They asked the Commission if it intended to safeguard meat terminology.

Under current EU law, this is already the case for dairy products, where terms such as cheese and yoghurt can only be used for foods made from milk.

But here the EC indicated no urgency to act.

"The Commission is currently not planning to introduce reserved terms for meat products," ​said Andriukaitis last month, referring to a previous answer​ he gave to Renate Sommer on the same subject.

"Where a substitution ingredient(s) is used in a product, the name of the product should be followed in close proximity by the name of the substitution ingredient(s).

"It is up to the food business operator to find an appropriate name for this substitution food in accordance with the rules concerning the name of the food. In addition, the provisions of the product-specific legislation in place, where appropriate, shall also be respected. The Commission considers that the applicable provisions provide sufficient legal basis to protect consumers from being misled."

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Different products, separate aisles?

The European Vegetarian Union believes that traditional meat terms are used to guide consumers to the products they want, and rejects the claim they are misleading. Public affairs officer Jan Felix Domke told FoodNavigator previously: "Typically, vegetarian alternatives are developed and produced in order to match the 'original' as closely as possible. Terms such as 'sausage' transport a great amount of information to the customer (shape, texture, taste, how to prepare it, etc) which is why traditional terms are useful.

"And typically, the vegetarian 'character' of the product has been made unmistakably clear (a fact that the MEPs omit), commonly by using words such as 'vegetarian' or 'vegan'. We are not aware of anything pointing towards misled or confused customers."

According to VZBV, the Federation of German Consumer Organisations: Consumers need to be able to see at first glance what kind of food they have in front of them. The product name should therefore be provided with a clarifying addition such as ‘vegetarian’ or ‘vegan’. In addition, the plant ingredient must be in close proximity to the product name. 

The fact that there are different regulations, for example with regard to the protection of names, is not comprehensible for consumers. In our opinion, there should be uniform regulations,” ​it said on its Food Clarity website, a project which is financially supported by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture as part of the initiative ‘More clarity and truth in the labelling and presentation of food’.

“In addition, vegetarian and vegan products in supermarkets should be offered in a separate area to avoid confusion.”

According to a 2014 survey carried out by market researchers at the Allensbach Institute, around seven million people in Germany are vegetarian while around 800,000 are vegan.

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