Earlier this month, the European Parliament’s agriculture committee backed a ban on vegetarian and vegan products using terminology traditionally associated with meat on their labelling and product descriptions. The proposal, which will go before the full Parliament after May’s European elections, would include terms such as steak, sausage, escalope and burger.
If the stipulation gains the backing of a majority of MEPs next month, vegan and veggie burgers could become vegetable “discs” while meat-free sausages could become veggie “tubes”.
In a 14-page letter sent to European regulators, the Vegan Society said the ban would contravene European citizens’ right to be informed about how the goods should be consumed, denying people seeking out meat-free options the “benefits offered by EU law on clear labelling”.
The charity argued the proposed measures do not achieve the required threshold for implementation as the EU rules recognise that “any limitation of fundamental rights must respect the principle of proportionality and meet objectives of general interest”.
The Vegan Society also stressed that the proposal would place “excessive administrative burdens” on public entities, including schools, health providers, government departments, police forces and prisons. The letter includes an appendix with over 100 examples of plant-based food descriptors being used in the public and private sectors, suggesting many institutions would be affected.
Dr Jeanette Rowley, vegan rights advocate at The Vegan Society, said the proposal is “not aligned” with EU policy on diversity.
“It is not in the public interest and, if implemented, would have a disproportional impact across society by affecting the normal daily functioning of all public and private entities that provide food,” she stressed, warning of “administrative chaos”.
“The widespread impact of this unreasonable and costly proposal should not be underestimated,” Dr Rowley cautioned.
‘Why use the meat names in the first place?’
Dr Rowley cited European food labelling laws that state “food information should … enable consumers to identify and make appropriate use of food” and argued the use of ‘meaty’ names informs the consumer how the plant-based products can be cooked and used.
However, a spokesperson for the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) insisted that the use of meaty names to describe vegetable-based products could be, in itself, misleading for consumers.
“The point is, it is about accurate labelling,” the spokesperson told FoodNavigator. “When you get things in the supermarket like ‘meat-free meatballs’ there is almost a hope that you are going to deceive the public.
“Certain things look as though they are going to deceive. Why use the meat names in the first place?”
‘Desperate’ attempt to restrict marketing
Nevertheless, The Vegan Society dismissed the notion as “an attempt to bolster a depressed agricultural economy” and warned the proposals – if pushed through – would “create confusion across the EU”.
George Gill, CEO at The Vegan Society, hit back at the proposal as a “desperate" ploy from the meat lobby to restrict plant-based marketing options in the face of growing demand.
“As consumers are increasingly moving away from eating animals, the demand for vegan products is growing. There’s no denying that meat, dairy and egg industries are feeling threatened by this and desperately trying to restrict the marketing of vegan products,” Gill – one of the letter’s signatories – argued.
“These proposals have little to do with consumer protection and instead are motivated by economic concerns of the meat industry. We are calling on EU officials to reject these irrational measures for vegan meat alternatives to be banned from using the qualified conventional terms everyone has been using for decades.”