Proposed EU regulations could see veggie burgers and veggie sausages renamed ‘veggie disks’ and ‘veggie tubes’. What sounds like an April Fools’ Day joke, was actually proposed by the European Parliament on 1 April 2019 and is still keeping stakeholders in the meat-alternative sector busy a year later. The upcoming vote, which is scheduled to take place in October this year, will have long-lasting detrimental effects on the plant-based food sector if no action is taken to oppose the regulation.
A brief history of the attempted EU ‘veggie burger ban’
The recent pushback on sustainable development
Plant-based meat alternatives have been on the market for at least a century in Europe – and for far longer in other parts of the world. These products have long been marketed using terms such as ‘veggie sausage’ and ‘veggie burger’. This has never been a problem in the past. It is only now that these products have made their way into mainstream supermarkets and are expanding their sales footprints across the EU 1 2 3 that stakeholders from traditional animal-based industries are calling for a legal ban on ‘meaty names’ for these long-established veggie alternatives.
‘Veggie tubes’ will come at a high price for the food industry
The main argument proposed by those pushing the regulations is that the current approach confuses consumers. However, this ignores the fact that terms such as ‘veggie sausage’ and ‘veggie burger’ are already part of established nomenclature and convey important information about what consumers can expect from these products, thus simplifying the overall purchase process for consumers. Banning the use of these terms will prove costly for the entire food industry, with substantial consequences for manufacturers, retailers, and food-service outlets alike. Some of the initial challenges will include the following:
- Brands will be required to relabel existing products under the new legal framework, thus raising uncertainties and incurring potentially costly lawsuits for brands deemed to have interpreted the legislation incorrectly.
- Lengthy market-research activities will need to take place for each of the European markets, since it’s unlikely that a one-size-fits-all alternative naming framework can be used across all the different EU member states.
- Costly rebranding exercises will be required to ensure that products will be able to attract and retain consumers who are familiar with the previous labelling, branding, and terminology.
- Costly awareness campaigns will be needed in order to ensure that consumers understand the like-for-like functionality of products that will no longer be permitted to use their traditional names.
“This ‘burger ban’ has the potential to cause severe implications for manufacturers, retailers, and stakeholders across the food industry.”
Head of Food Industry and Retail at ProVeg International
These two amendments prohibit the use of terms such as ‘veggie burger’ and ‘yoghurt style’
Two proposals have been put forward by the European Parliament Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development as amendments to the Common Market Organisation, both of which could cause long-lasting challenges for stakeholders working across the food industry.
- The first amendment would effectively restrict plant-based products from being labelled with names such as ‘steak’, ‘sausage’, and ‘burger’, which have typically been associated with meat products. For example, it would make it illegal to sell a product with the denomination ‘veggie burger’.
- The other amendment seeks to extend the already-existing ban on dairy denominations for plant-based alternatives. This would make it impossible for dairy-alternatives to refer to their animal-based counterparts with descriptive terms such as ‘style’, ‘like’, ‘imitation’, or similar, thus prohibiting terms such as ‘yoghurt style’ and ‘cheese alternative’. This will make it much harder for consumers to identify the nature of the dairy-alternative product.
The plenary vote is crucial
For over a year now, several interest groups have been trying to demonstrate to the Committee that the amendments on veggie denominations deserve to be reconsidered. Should the proposed regulation go ahead, it will cause consumer confusion and undermine the current efforts to shift European diets to more sustainable patterns. Furthermore, there is no convincing argument for these restrictive regulations. The Committee is still deliberating on the amendments, with compromise wordings and alternatives to the proposals on the table. The outcome of these negotiations cannot be predicted, but, as was planned last year, proposals for the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy will have to stand the test of the plenary vote. Although the process of deciding on the final wording of the amendments takes place behind closed doors, there is still the opportunity to influence the vote. If you want to receive more information, get in touch with Verena Wiederkehr.
Int. Head of Food Industry & Retail [email protected]
National discussions – get involved
Meanwhile, the topic is also heating up on the various national levels. The Dutch government has come forward with an endorsement of ‘meaty’ designations for plant-based foods, while a UK House of Lords subcommittee has written a letter expressing their concern over the EU Parliament’s plans. Germany has had similar discussions since 2016, with a strong backlash from the plant-based food sector against the confusing and arbitrary denomination rules imposed by the German Food Code Commission, which, as a consequence, will be revised. France adopted far-reaching restrictions on the labelling of plant-based products in May this year, which generated substantial media attention and which is said to have had an influence on the discussions on the European level. As France allegedly violated European legal procedures with this law and adopted it in the middle of ongoing EU discussions, the umbrella-organisation European Vegetarian Union and other NGOs launched an official objection to the approach taken by France. The various discussions in different EU Member States show that it would be helpful to have a Europe-wide solution which allows vegan and vegetarian products to make reference to their animal-based counterparts, thus helping consumers to quickly and easily identify new and existing products in the burgeoning plant-based sector.
Get the latest information and help stop the veggie burger ban
ProVeg and the European umbrella organisation European Vegetarian Union have been closely monitoring these political developments and working on a response. With our vast network of industry partners, we are well suited to bring the multiple stakeholders together to speak with a unified voice against this attempt to unfairly disadvantage the growing plant-based sector. Food-industry experts are invited to get in touch with Verena Wiederkehr, Head of Food Industry and Retail at ProVeg International, and receive the latest information on ‘the veggie burger ban’.
Int. Head of Food Industry & Retail [email protected]
- Vegconomist: Global Consumers Increasing Intake of Plant-Based Foods Rises From 18% to 26% April – July https://vegconomist.com/studies-and-numbers/global-consumers-increasing-intake-of-plant-based-foods-rises-from-18-to-26-april-july/
- Plant Based News: Researchers Predict Plant-Based Food Market Will Be Worth $74.2 Billion By 2027 https://www.plantbasednews.org/lifestyle/plant-based-food-market-worth-74-billion-by-2027
- Vegconomist:German Sales for Vegetarian and Vegan Products Increased 37% in Q1 https://vegconomist.com/market-and-trends/german-sales-for-vegetarian-and-vegan-products-increased-37-in-q1/