A European proposal to ban the use of names such as “burger” and “sausage,” as well as descriptive terms like “yogurt-style” and “cheese alternative,” from being used on vegetarian and vegan products is being widely challenged across Europe.
Key stakeholders within the plant-based space are ramping up lobbying of MEPs, bolstering their campaign to stop politicians voting through plans to tighten up labeling rules on plant-based products. This comes as industry edges closer to a vote on two key amendments that could see naming laws severely tightened.
Amendment 165 seeks to restrict plant-based products from using names typically associated with meat products. If passed into law, this could see non-meat burgers renamed as “veggie discs” and non-meat sausages as “veggie tubes.”
Amendment 171 seeks to extend existing restrictions on dairy-related terms. Terms such as “almond milk” and “vegan cheese” are already banned on products in the EU, but amendment 171 goes further and would restrict dairy alternatives from using descriptive terms.
Both amendments have been put forward to avoid consumer confusion and will be voted on during a European Parliament’s plenary session schedule for October 19-22.
“Common sense” should prevail
However, those in the plant-based sector believe this would make branding and labeling so much more difficult and, in any case, consumers are not confused between a plant-based product and a real meat or dairy product.
“We really hope that a majority of MEPs vote to reject both amendments. To suggest that the public are confused by the contents of a veggie burger is clearly nonsense, and we hope that common sense prevails,” Jimmy Pierson, director at ProVeg International, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
“If the amendments are passed then it will hit manufacturers, retailers, and foodservice outlets hard financially. They will have to relabel products under the new legal framework, for example, with a risk of costly lawsuits for brands deemed to have interpreted the new legislation incorrectly,” he argues.
Rebranding could also be required to ensure that products attract and retain consumers familiar with the previous labeling, branding and terminology.
New marketing campaigns could also be needed to ensure that consumers understand the like-for-like functionality of existing products with new names and descriptions, Pierson adds
“Market research in different European markets could also be necessary since it’s unlikely that there will be a one-size-fits-all alternative naming framework across all the different EU Member States,” he says.
Together with other members of the newly-formed European Alliance for Plant-Based Food, ProVeg International has been lobbying, which has included various letters to MEPs in different European countries.
“Our petition is also growing fast, now up to almost 120,000 signatures from members of the public who are not confused by veggie burgers. We expect it to reach at least 150,000 by the time we hand it over to MEPs ahead of the vote,” Pierson continues.
Plant-based stakeholders argue that there is no evidence to suggest that consumers want or need this restriction, or that consumers are confused or misled by vegetarian and vegan products, which are usually clearly labeled.
European consumers overwhelmingly favor the use of meat-related terms for plant-based foods, according to Pierson.
“A recent survey conducted by the European Consumer Organisation in ten Member States found that more than 68 percent of consumers support labels such as “burger” and “steak” for plant-based food, as long as the products are clearly labeled as plant-based or vegetarian,” he elaborates.
Terms such as “almond milk” are already banned on products in the EU, but amendment 171 goes further and would restrict dairy alternatives from using descriptive terms. “Hijacking” meat and dairy terms
On the other hand, and unsurprisingly, European meat and dairy sector stakeholders have criticized plant-based offerings that use meat and dairy terminology.
They say this can “clearly mislead EU consumers into thinking that these imitations are an ‘equal’ substitute to originals.”
They are also concerned that assigning meat and dairy denominations to their alternatives might further compromise European cultural food heritage.
“It’s not an issue of confusing meat and plant-based food. It’s a question of fair marketing, fair information and keeping the tradition alive,” says Paolo Patruno, deputy secretary-general at the European meat processing group Clitravi.
“We want to avoid that one day the consumers would forget what is ham and would not taste the flavor of tradition anymore, losing its identity and the tradition behind breeds, savoir-faire, recipes, territories and traditional processing techniques,” he explains.
“We just want to protect the reputation of our products. We are perfectly fine with the willingness of consumers to look for new products and to diversify their diet, but we do not accept the hijacking of the powerful common denominations of meat to boost the sales of plant-based products,” adds Birthe Steenberg, secretary-general of poultry association AVEC.
However, ProVeg International maintains that the use of the terms such as “burger,” “sausage’”and “cheese alternative” on meat-free and dairy-free products serves an important function in communicating characteristics that consumers are looking for at the point of purchase, especially in terms of taste and texture.
“We are confident, however, whichever way the vote goes, that the plant-based sector will continue to innovate and thrive. Global demand for plant-based food is an ever-growing juggernaut, no matter what restrictions are placed in its way,” concludes Pierson.
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