|Welcome to EURACTIV’s AgriFood Brief, your weekly update on all things Agriculture & Food in the EU. You can subscribe here if you haven’t done so yet.|
It’s the issue that has captured hearts and minds, and set social media ablaze with outrage in the weeks leading up to the vote on Commons Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform. And incredibly, it doesn’t have anything to do with the way that the biggest slice of the EU’s budget is dealt out.
You’d be forgiven for thinking this week’s plenary vote on the future of the entire EU farming sector boils down to just one issue: the naming of veggie products.
The vote on this now-infamous question is set to play out later today (23 October), with stakeholders and the wider public on tenterhooks to hear the outcome.
This is despite the fact that, regardless of whether or not the amendment passes, it still has to be negotiated in trilogue between the Council, Commission and Parliament at a later date.
But this detail is by the by. What’s interesting are the reasons behind this focus on a seemingly innocuous issue, and the way this vote has come to symbolise something that runs deeper than simple packaging claims.
Why has this touched a nerve for so many?
Far from simply being the fuel that keeps us going, food is at the heart of our cultures and identities.
Likewise, farming is not just an industry, but central to how so many societies function and orientate themselves.
As linguist Chi Luu points out, the cuisines we prefer are often identity markers such as ethnicity, class, or age, and this can often be directly linked to culinary linguistics.
It’s this strong connection with our food that makes it so difficult to shift long-established patterns of consumption, such as from meat-based burgers to veggie ones.
It’s also why a more gentle transition with a familiar name that consumers can relate to and understand can encourage them to branch out.
Much like a little duckling imprints in its mum, studies have shown people might be susceptible to a form of food imprinting, where an early experience of particular foods influences subsequent food choices.
This close relationship to our food might even go some way to explaining why agricultural products so often have the power to make or break trade deals, and also why we’re so attached to geographical indications which protect regional products from being imitated elsewhere.
And this attachment has real economic ramifications; these products protected by geographical indications have been found to double the value of agri-food products.
Similarly, sticks and stones may break bones, but words can hurt profits.
While Shakespeare might claim that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, that doesn’t seem to be the case in the world of branding.
For two years, the World Resources Institute’s ‘Better Buying Lab’ explored what works when it comes to describing plant-based foods in the US and the UK, concluding that the way these foods are named had a significant influence on their uptake.
So this is why there is so much at ‘steak’ for both sides of this fight; on the one hand, an unlikely alliance between environmentalists who want to encourage plant-based diets and industry players who want to sell them, and in the other corner, the EU livestock sector who are fighting to defend their historical claims to meaty names.
Whichever way the vote lands in Parliament this afternoon, one thing is for sure; this won’t be the last battle to be fought over food denominations.
“We have good news for our farmers. I believe that we will adopt the legal texts soon and farmers will have legal certainty for the next seven years of the Common Agricultural Policy”
26th October – COMAGRI meeting of the European Parliament on “Fruits, vegetables and wine market situation – the impact of the EU measures to face the COVID-19 pandemic”
26th October – The forum for the future of agriculture is holding an online event on rewarding sustainability in the food system
27th October – EURACTIV is holding a twitter chat on the uptake of the Farm to Fork strategy across the EU. More details here.
27th October – There is a webinar organised by the intergroup on biodiversity, hunting, countryside, will which explore the next EU Forestry Strategy. More details here