It’s official: France outlaws ‘steak’, ‘sausage’ and ‘bacon’ terms for plant-based meat

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

According to the new law, meat denominations in France will be used for meat products only. GettyImages/Flaggenwelt
According to the new law, meat denominations in France will be used for meat products only. GettyImages/Flaggenwelt

Related tags plant-based meat

France has outlined exactly which ‘meaty’ words are to be banned when describing, marketing and promoting plant-based products – and the list is extensive.

In three months’ time, France will enforce a ban on the use of ‘meaty’ terminology for plant-based products.

According to the new decree​, published by the government yesterday, vegan steak, meat-free bacon, and plant-based saucisse are off the menu. Operators that don’t comply could be fined up to €7,500.

As to what descriptors they’ll be replaced with, well, plant-based manufacturers will have to get creative…’Vegetable discs’ or ‘veggie tubes’ anyone?

The ‘meaty’ terms banned for plant-based alternatives

The list of terms now off the table to manufacturers of plant-based meat alternatives is extensive. It includes filet, faux filet (rib eye, sirloin), rumsteck (rump steak), entrecôte (rib steak), onglet (back steak), bifteck (beefsteak), flanchet (flank), steak, escalope (cutlet), and jambon (ham).

Ban extends beyond purely plants

The ban doesn’t strictly apply to plant-based products only: organisms belonging to other kingdoms – such as the fungi kingdom – are also implicated. Makers of mycoprotein-based products, therefore, also must adhere.

The decree does allow for meat products containing plant protein to be marketed as meat, but only if the plant-based content makes up a specific proportion.

For example, in bacon, a plant protein content up of to 0.5% is permitted; in a cooked filet mignon 1% plant-based content is allowed; and in chorizo sausage the plant-based content can make up 1.5% of the finished product. A regular sausage allows for a slightly higher content at 3%.

Has this ban been on the cards for a while?

The new mandate, implemented to avoid misleading consumers, follows a decision by the government to ban the use of traditionally ‘meaty’ terminology for plant-based alternatives back in 2020.

The decree was published mid-2022, but was very quickly put on pause​ by France’s Council of State (Conseil d’État) following a request by plant-based and alternative protein-focused association Protéines France. The association argued the plant-based industry would not have enough time to make appropriate changes to branding and marketing by the proposed 1 October 2022 deadline.

France is not the only country to have been toying with ‘meaty’ terminology bans for plant-based products of late. South Africa​ has also banned ‘meaty’ denominations from being used on vegan products, as has Italy​ - although the Italian government has hinted it could be 'open' to reconsidering​.

An EU-wide ban was also proposed back in 2020, but was vetoed by the European Parliament​.

Dairy alternatives also in the firing line

It’s not just ‘meaty’ terminology in the firing line: dairy denominations have also been outlawed in certain geographies. Back in 2017, the European Court of Justice implemented a ban on the use of dairy names such as ‘milk’, ‘butter’, ‘cheese’, and ‘yoghurt’ for plant-based alternatives (with the exception of coconut milk, peanut butter, almond milk and ice cream). In Turkey, ‘cheese’ cannot be used to describe dairy-free alternatives, and vegan cheese production is also banned​.

While some governments argue using 'meaty' descriptors for plant-based products can confuse consumers, alternative protein think tank the Good Food Institute (GFI) Europe does not agree. "Everyday language like 'steak' helps consumers know what to expect in terms of the taste and texture of plant-based foods, and as the French Supreme Court recently confirmed, consumers are not confused by these terms," Elena Walden, GFI Europe senior policy manager told FoodNavigator.

"Other governments have considered similar measures, but Belgium recently abandoned its plans to restrict plant-based labelling..."

Plant-based industry fears new law will negatively impact sales

The ban does not apply to products manufactured or marketed in another Member State or third country. Plant-based players in France, therefore, fear the new law compromises sales prospects in the face of foreign producers.

According to Umiami, which makes plant-based whole cut chicken alternatives​, such regulations ‘seriously’ impact the sector’s economic development and efforts to promote a more plant-based diet. The French start-up considers the decree to be ‘totally inconsistent’ with national ambitions in terms of reindustrialisation and the fight against climate change.

HappyVore co-founder Cedric Meston took to social media with a satirical post regarding the future branding of its ‘chipos’ (chipolata sausage alternatives) once the new law is enforced. Anyone fancy ‘medium-length, medium width vegetable tubes’? Image credit: Cedric Meston / HappyVore

Another French plant-based meat producer, HappyVore, is also concerned that the law will be applied to local operators only. According to co-founder Cedric Meston, the law benefits multinationals but penalises smaller players that helped to develop the market on home soil.

Unfortunately the plant sector was excluded from discussions on the decree and was therefore not able to propose alternative solutions that would not penalise French producers, he lamented on social media.

French plant-based bacon brand La Vie suspects the ban will be postponed, but that manufacturers will still be working on new non-meaty descriptors in the meantime. "The plant-based sector has two months to change the packaging names IF the decree is not suspended," CEO Nicolas Schweitzer told FoodNavigator. "The problem is that the fine is €1,500 per pack sold, so despite the fact the ban is likely to be suspended, everyone is trying to change their pack ASAP just in case.

"In practice, the plant-based sector is growing strongly in France; it's yet another move by the French meat lobby to try and slow down the necessary decrease in meat consumption."

GFI Europe is similarly concerned the ban will hurt plant-based producers in France. "Our Nielsen analysis found France is one of Europe's largest markets for plant-based products, and demand for these foods will continue to grow. This unnecessary measure will only impact French companies, and leave consumers turning to plant-based imports from elsewhere in the EU which will be unaffected," GFI Europe's Walden told this publication. 

"Rather than wasting time on restrictions that attempt to stifle consumer choice, the government should support the country's growing plant-based food sector."

As to what names plant-based manufacturers will come up with, the jury is still out. For La Vie, which produces plant-based lardons, bacon, and ham, this question will need to be brainstormed in the coming weeks. "All our products are covered by the decree," CEO Schweitzer explained. "The paradox is that we will have to use significantly less explicit denominations, such as 'finely sliced' instead of 'plant-based ham'."

The European Livestock and Meat Trades Union (UECBV) did not respond to a request for comment ahead of publication. 

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