Today (23 October), the European Parliament cast its final vote on two amendments concerning the use of dairy-like and ‘meaty’ terminology for plant-based alternatives.
Article 171 proposed to ban terms such as ‘almond milk’ and ‘vegan cheese’, as well as ‘yogurt-style’ and ‘cheese alternative’ for dairy-free products.
Amendment 165 proposed to prohibit terms such as ‘burger’, ‘sausage’, ‘steak’ or ‘escalope’ for vegetarian and vegan alternatives.
The results – which see dairy-related terms outlawed, yet ‘meaty’ terms retained – have been met with mixed reactions from industry.
‘Non-dairy products cannot hijack our dairy terms’
Unsurprisingly, the dairy industry rejoiced in the news that plant-based alternatives will not legally be able to carry dairy-related terms.
The vote follows on from a 2017 ruling, which saw the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ban the use of dairy names such as ‘milk’, ‘butter’, ‘cheese’, and ‘yogurt’ for purely plant-based products – with the exception of coconut milk, peanut butter, almond milk and ice cream.
The protection of dairy terms, said the European Dairy Association (EDA), is ‘crucial’ for the whole European dairy sector. “At European level, the protection of dairy terms guarantees that all dairy products are made out of milk and milk products,” noted the membership body,
together with Eucolait, Copa, and Cogeca.
The ban will help avoid consumer confusion, they continued, between products that are different in terms of origin, ingredient composition and nutritional value.
“Non-dairy products cannot hijack our dairy terms and the well-deserved reputation of excellence in milk and dairy,” said the EDA. “This is a good day for the EU lactosphère, for our European consumers and citizens, and for Europe.”
‘A major blow to the plant-based dairy sector’
Many outside the dairy industry, however, have lamented the outcome.
The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), for example, said it is a ‘pity’ that MEPs approved further ‘unnecessary’ restrictions for the naming of plant-based dairy alternatives. Senior food policy officer Camille Perrin said BEUC is now looking to the European Council to oppose the move, which, she said, ‘has nothing to do with consumer protection’.
‘Food awareness’ organisation ProVeg International, which aims to halve the global consumption of animals by 2040, similarly described the new restrictions as ‘unnecessary’.
“We deeply regret [the European Parliament’s] vote in favour of far-reaching and entirely unnecessary restrictions on the descriptions of plant-based dairy products,” said ProVeg vice president Jasmijn de Boo.
Describing the result as a ‘major blow’ to the plant-based dairy sector, de Boo raised concerns that plant-based dairy businesses could now be ‘saddled with significant financial burdens’ and ‘practical challenges’ around renaming, rebranding, and remarketing their products. Such rebranding could also come with ‘high legal costs’, she warned.
The ban has also been accused of contradicting European Green Deal objectives and the Farm to Fork Strategy – both which aim to create healthier and more sustainable food systems. “The Farm to Fork Strategy explicitly states the need to empower consumers ‘to choose sustainable food’, and to make ‘it easier to choose healthy and sustainable diets’,” noted de Boo, suggesting that banning dairy-related terminology for plant-based alternatives will hinder such choices being made.
Veggie burgers still on the table
At the same time, ProVeg has applauded the European Parliament for voting against Amendment 165, and allowing for terms such as ‘burger’, ‘sausage’ and ‘steak’ to continue to be used for plant-based products.
There is a disaccord, however, between the outcomes of today’s votes, implied vice president de Boo. “It is inconceivable to us just how the European Parliament could take such different positions on such similar proposals.
“Although the ban is supposedly intended to prevent consumer confusion, it is clear that it does nothing for consumers except confuse them.”
BEUC has also welcomed the outcome of this morning’s ‘veggie burger ban’ vote, which senior food policy officer Perrin suggested showed ‘common sense’ on the part of the European Parliament.
“Consumers are in no way confused by a soy steak or chickpea-based sausage, so long as it is clearly labelled as vegetarian or vegan. Terms such as ‘burger’ or ‘steak’ on plant-based items simply make it much easier for consumers to know how to integrate these products within a meal.”
‘A cow is a cow, a pig is a pig, and meat is meat – it’s that simple!’
For the European Livestock and Meat Trading Union (UECBV), however, the outcome represents a missed opportunity. “A chance for clarification on an EU-level [has been] missed for meat denomination,” secretary general Karsten Maier told FoodNavigator.
In a joint manifesto published ahead of the vote, the UECBV made clear it ‘firmly believes’ that meat denominations should be protected’, and not used for ‘surrealistic meat’. “So a cow is a cow – a pig is a pig – and meat is meat – it’s that simple!”
Meat denominations are ‘deeply rooted’ in our cultural heritage, noted the membership body, listing bacon, ham, carpaccio, steak, filet, chops, and salami as traditional denominations that have been shaped over time. “No one needs to explain what these products are or what to expect when buying them.”
Plant-based alternatives and their denominations, on the other hand, raise ‘fundamental questions’ about consumer information, our cultural heritage, and the power of modern marketing, “which blithely mixes big business interests and values”.
For Maier, the plant-based sector should be fair, and take the opportunity to create new products with new denominations to ‘gain consumer’s recognition’ and to ‘achieve financial success’.
“An industry striving to become mainstream does not need to build its glory by focusing their marketing on existing products and on a fight against them!”
NB: The final Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) vote is due to take place later today and might change the outcome of the ‘dairy-related’ and ‘meaty’ terminology votes if the CAP is rejected in its entirety.