On Friday, the European Union ruled that plant-based meat alternatives can still be labeled as meat. Members of parliament voted against an amendment that would have renamed veggie burgers and sausages to plant-based discs and tubes.
The vote comes as a win for environmentalists, medical professionals, and plant-based food producers, who say alternative meat labels help consumers make informed choices.
“People aren’t buying plant-based meat by mistake,” Elena Walden, Policy Manager at The Good Food Institute Europe, writes in a recent op-ed published by the organization. “They’re buying it because they recognize the benefits of these products for their health, the environment, and animal welfare.”
On the other hand, meat industry lobbyists and farmers say the meaty labels confuse consumers. Supporters of the so-called veggie burger ban also argue plant-based products are branded as healthier alternatives to meat, even though many are highly processed.
“I am not afraid to say that this is an obvious case of cultural hijacking,” says Jean-Pierre Fleury, a livestock farmer and Chairman of the Working Party on Beef and Veal at the European farmer union Copa-Cogeca. “Certain marketing agencies are using this to deliberately confuse consumers by promoting the view that substituting one product for another has no impact on the nutritional intake.”
According to a poll by The House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee, fewer than 4 percent of shoppers have mistakenly bought plant-based products. The European Consumer Organization finds that 68 percent of people don’t mind if products are marketed as meat alternatives, as long as they are clearly labeled.
Another EU amendment, which imposes stricter regulations on dairy alternatives, did pass this week. In 2017, the European Court of Justice ruled that dairy substitutes, like almond milk, could no longer be referred to as milk, cream, butter, or cheese. The new amendment takes this rule a step further by barring producers from saying plant-based products are like or in the style of dairy. Even the term creamy is off the table.
The dairy amendment will not go into effect immediately. Governments of the EU’s 27 member states will first have to negotiate with their EU councils.
Similar debates are also percolating in the United States, where Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, and Wyoming have banned companies from marketing plant-based foods as meat, burger, sausage, or jerky.
All of this comes amid a massive decline in global meat consumption. According to a recent report by the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization, per-capita global meat consumption is nearing a 10-year low. In Europe, plant-based product sales have spiked 73 percent since 2015.
Meat or not—the global meat substitute market is expected to rake in $8.1 billion by 2026.
Photo courtesy of Alexander Sinn, Unsplash