The meat industry wants terms such as ‘veggie burger’ banned. This is less about confusion, more about competition.
This week the European Parliament will vote on the common agricultural policy. We want a sustainable CAP, aligned with the Paris agreement and the European Climate Law, on which the parliament recently adopted a position. Judging from what´s on the table, however, we are far from it.
One small aspect of the CAP could have a big impact. It’s the issue of whether to ban ‘meaty’ terms—such as ‘burger and ‘sausage’—for vegetarian products, and further restrict marketing of plant-based alternatives to dairy.
Products such as ‘veggie burger’ or ‘plant based-steak’ have in some cases been on the market for decades. Consumers are familiar with these names, which help to support their dietary choices.
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Current European Union denominations and labelling rules, as laid out in the Food Information to Consumers Regulation, are clear and adequate. Additional restrictions would harm the competitiveness of plant-based food producers—a growing contributor to European jobs and investment—which have built brands, product portfolios, intellectual property rights and strong customer bases on these familiar terms.
Rather than genuinely caring about consumers making the right choices, it seems the meat industry is worried about the competition from plant-based products. As a frequent consumer of the latter, it never crossed my mind that the names could be confusing.
In fact, the evidence indicates consumers are not misled by plant-based products. In one survey, 95 per cent of German consumers reported that they never bought the wrong product because they confused plant-based with animal-based food.
There would be no problem in adding descriptions or qualifiers to make the origin of the products even clearer—this reflects current market practice in any case. It would not involve the European Parliament taking away product names with which European citizens are already familiar. A recent survey by the BEUC, the European Consumer Organisation, found that over 68 per cent of consumers from 11 European countries supported ‘meaty’ names for plant-based food products, as long as they were clearly labelled as plant-based or vegetarian.
Nearly 100,000 people across Europe have signed petitions opposing these proposals. A diverse range of civil-society organisations has also made clear their opposition.
The European Parliament recently adopted its position on the European Climate Law, cornerstone of the European Green Deal. As rapporteur I was happy that we obtained a commitment to a 60 per cent reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030, compared with 1990. With this target the parliament takes a firm position to bring Europe’s climate efforts more in line with science and our citizens, who want Europe to reach the climate-neutrality objective and to respect the Paris agreement.
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Food has a major role to play in reaching this target—so the Farm to Fork Strategy is at the heart of the Green Deal. Agriculture will have to contribute considerably to the 2050 and upcoming 2030 climate targets. It is responsible for 10.3 per cent of the EU’s GHG emissions and nearly 70 per cent of these come from the animal sector.
The Farm to Fork Strategy aims to achieve a sustainable food system that can bring environmental, health and social benefits, offer economic gains and ensure that a recovery from the pandemic puts Europe on to a sustainable path. The strategy includes plans to promote plant-based diets, to reduce not only the risk of life-threatening diseases but also the environmental impact of the food system.
Restrictive labelling would not only hinder the development of the plant-based industry. It would go counter to the objectives of the strategy and the Sustainable Healthy Diets: Guiding Principles document jointly issued by the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization.
It should not only be up to us as individuals to save the climate: the sectors and countries that emit the most must also contribute the most. But we need to embrace and encourage trends that make it easier for consumers to make environmentally friendly choices. Europeans are becoming increasingly conscious of the environmental, ethical and health impacts of their diet and are starting to change their food consumption accordingly. The number of vegetarians, vegans and ‘flexitarians’ is increasing.
EU annual meat consumption is projected to decline by 1.1 kilogrammes per capita by 2030. The number of flexitarians is increasing across all generations. In particular, the plant-based market share of the total ‘meat’ market tends to be relatively high in western Europe: in the Netherlands and Belgium it is 11 per cent, in Germany 9 per cent, in Italy 7 per cent, and in Sweden 5 per cent.
Banning veggie burgers and other ‘meaty’ names would risk making the European Parliament appear distant from European citizens. We should not confiscate these names for plant-based products, in the mistaken belief it would show solidarity with farmers or producers in the meat sector or even a respect for tradition. The status quo is fair.