Veggie alternatives cannot carry meat product names under new EU food labelling proposal

Under proposals approved by a group of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), meat-alternative food products cannot carry meat product and meat preparation names such as burgers and steaks.

The European Parliament's Agriculture Committee met on 1 April to vote on the first proposed reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) beyond 2020. Amendments to the common market organisation (CMO) for agricultural products garnered 29 votes in favour to seven against, and one abstention.

One of the so-called Compromise Amendments stated: "Names that fall under Article 17 of Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 that are currently used for meat products and meat preparations shall be reserved exclusively for products containing meat. These designations include, for example, steak, sausage, escalope, burger and hamburger."

This follows a previous 2017 judgment, whereby the European Court of Justice voted that plant-based dairy products could not carry similar names to their traditional animal-based counterparts.

“Purely plant-based products cannot, in principle, be marketed with designations such as milk, cream, butter, cheese or yoghurt,” the court said. Cocoa butter, coconut milk and salad cream were exempted under EU law but that “is not the case for soya or tofu”.

In light of the new proposals, a report in the UK's Guardian newspaper this week suggested 'veggie discs' may emerge as one of the designated names for vegetarian or plant-based burgers, along with quorn tubes, soya slices and seitan slabs for other meat-alternative products.

French socialist MEP Éric Andrieu, who is responsible for overseeing the legislation, said the proposed prohibition was just "common sense".

He added that MEPs had voted in the best interests of consumers and the move should be seen as an opportunity for vegetarian brands to make their mark.

"We felt that steak should be kept for real steak with meat and come up with a new moniker for all these new products," Andrieu said.

"People need to know what they are eating. So people who want to eat less meat know what they are eating – people know what is on their plate."

The approvals now need to go before the European Parliament as a whole, which is set to be after the 23-26 May European elections. Political leaders will then need to look at the proposals before passing them on for final approval.

Should the Commons finally ratify Theresa May’s Brexit withdrawal agreement, the British government would probably have to put the regulation into force if there is an extended transition period. Even if the UK is outside the EU by the time the labelling rule is applied, it is likely Britain would follow Brussels’ lead.

Figures from UK supermarkets suggest that around one in three British people have stopped or reduced their meat consumption in recent years, particularly among younger demographics.

Research by the Vegan Society suggests that the number of vegans quadrupled between 2014 and 2018, now representing about 1.2 per cent of the population. The Vegetarian Society estimates that a further 2 per cent of the population is vegetarian.

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