Veggie Burger or Veggie ‘Disc’ on Menu? EU Vote Will Decide

Consumers shopping for alternative meats could see veggie “discs” and “plant-based tubes” on European shelves under a proposal to stop plant-based food producers from using more traditional words on packaging.

The European Parliament will this week vote on an amendment that would limit the use of words such as “hamburger” or “sausage” exclusively to labels for real meat. Another proposal calls for further restricting the use of terms like “creamy,” or “yoghurt-style” on dairy-free items.

The vote highlights a clash in the food industry as meat and dairy alternatives gain in popularity. Meat producers argue that plant-based products with traditional-sounding labels mislead shoppers into thinking the substitutes are equal to the real thing. Alternative-protein makers like Unilever Plc, Beyond Meat and Oatly AB say the proposals would hurt the development of alternative foods and confuse consumers.

“That’s just pure market protection,” Jasmijn de Boo, vice president of advocacy group ProVeg International, said by phone. “These proposals are only to do with protection of the meat industry.”

Veggie Burger or Veggie ‘Disc’ on Menu? EU Vote Will Decide

Alternative-protein demand has boomed in Europe as health, animal welfare and environmental concerns lead consumers to cut back on meat. For example, sales of meat and dairy substitutes saw double-digit growth in recent years. Researcher Euromonitor International estimates that the market for the meat substitutes in Europe almost doubled to $1.9 billion in the past five years, while sales of dairy products and alternatives reached almost $182 billion.

The vote on the amendments is likely to take place no sooner than Thursday, and probably on Friday, as part of a wider package of EU agricultural legislation that will also need the approval of member governments. The proposals, put forward by the EU Parliament’s agriculture committee, face resistance from some parliament members who have tabled their own amendments that would water down the proposed restrictions.

The amendments are subject to a final confirmation vote due on Friday.

If passed, it could lead to strange wording like “meat-free discs” and “plant-based tubes,” said Elena Walden, policy manager at the Good Food Institute, which represents the alternative-protein sector. Banning common terms like “veggie burger” may cause confusion and contradict the EU’s environmental ambitions, she said.

Meat Industry

The traditional meat industry says words like ham, salami and steak are deeply rooted in Europe’s cultural heritage, according to an open letter last month from groups including farm lobby Copa-Cogeca.

“The nutritional value simply is not the same,” Copa-Cogeca Secretary General Pukka Pesonen said by phone. “We need to make sure that the consumers get proper information according to the categories they consume.”

France has already introduced a ban on meat terms in plant-based foods, while the Netherlands opted to keep them. The EU has prohibited the use of “milk” on labels for plant-based drinks, leading some companies to opt for “mylk” instead.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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