MEPs want Commission to enter the veggie burger fray

Two pumpkin and chickpea burgers served with tomato sauce, spinach, roast courgettes and avocado. The sales value of plant-based meat alternatives is forecast to reach over €250 million in 2022. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

European Parliament lawmakers are considering asking the European Commission to step in and help nix any doubts about the terminology used for plant-based meat substitutes, which are gaining in popularity across the EU.

The matter was discussed in a technical meeting with policy advisers in the Parliament on Friday (11 September) and it is part of the talks around the reform of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

The final plenary vote on trade rules for all agriculture products marketed in Europe under the so-called common market organisations (CMOs) is expected in mid-October, together with the other pieces of legislation that form the CAP.

An amendment proposed by Parliament’s rapporteur on the file, French MEP Eric Andrieu,  asked the Commission to provide “specific rules on the definitions, designations or sales descriptions for meat, meat cuts, meat preparation and meat products”, taking into consideration the evolution of the meat market.

Although the amendment would shift the burden of bringing more clarity to the EU executive, this secondary legislation should follow the general principle that “meat sales denomination may not be used for any product other than meat.”

However, if approved, the proposed amendment would soften the Parliament’s stance on the issue, as it would offer some potential for derogations to the general ban on ‘meatish’ names for veggie and vegan products that MEPs pushed for in 2019.

MEPs rubber-stamp first portion of next CAP, shed spotlight on wine and ‘real’ steak

An extension for vine planting authorisations, nutrition info on wine labels, and a provision banning the use of terms like burger for veggie and vegan products were among the main suggestions filed by the current AGRI committee directly to the next European Parliament.

Such derogations could be granted when the exact nature of the foodstuff is clear from traditional usage and when the designations are clearly used to describe a characteristic quality of the foodstuff, the amendment reads.

Nonetheless, lawmakers insist that derogations should clearly mention words like ‘meatless’, ‘plant-based’, ‘vegetarian’, or ‘vegan’.

But the European livestock sector did not like the way Parliament is backpedalling from its initial stricter stance against veggie product sold under meat-related terms.

In an open letter published last week, six meat associations asked the lawmakers “to defend the original amendment as adopted in April 2019 and not to accept any compromise on this,” in order to preserve traditional meat denominations which are deeply rooted in European cultural heritage.

“With the boom in the marketing of similar [plant-based] products, this common heritage is at stake,” the meat associations stressed, also comparing the plant-based meat producers to the counterfeit industry.

Alexander Holst, policy manager at the Good Food Institute Europe, a non-profit which promotes alternatives to meat, told EURACTIV that many of these plant-based products have been on the EU market for decades.

“As a result, consumers are familiar with terms like ‘veggie burger’ and ‘plant-based steak’,” he said, adding that changing the names and brands of products which consumers already recognise will not bring extra clarity.

Support for a move to a “more plant-based diet” is a key element of the Farm to Fork Strategy (F2F), the EU’s flagship long-term food policy, as part of efforts to reduce not only risks of life-threatening diseases but also the food system’s environmental impact.

A French law passed at the end of May has poured petrol on the fire, prohibiting the use of names commonly associated with foodstuffs of animal origin for marketing products containing plant-based proteins like veggie burgers or vegan sausages.

Farm to Fork strategy softens stance on meat but backs alternative proteins

The EU’s pivotal Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy, presented on Wednesday (20 May), softened its stance on meat compared to the previous draft versions but offered staunch support for alternative proteins, which campaigners said was the first step in the right direction.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Sam Morgan]

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