What’s in a name? Row over veg-meat name heats up in Europe

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Row over veg-meat name heats up in Europe

A French law banning plant-based foodstuffs being labelled as ‘meatish’ and a court fight over the trademark of a vegan burger have rekindled the debate about possible consumer deception when it comes to novel food products.

At the end of May, the French National Assembly gave the final green light to a law providing consumers with more transparency on food labelling.

The new rules prohibit the use of names commonly associated with foodstuffs of animal origin for marketing products containing plant-based proteins like veggie burgers or vegan sausages.

An ensuing decree is expected to set the proportion of vegetable proteins beyond which a manufacturer can make use of a ‘meatish’ name without incurring penalties.

However, this kind of national rule could raise eyebrows and remains controversial from a legal point of view.


Although a similar ban has already been in place in Spain, trade rules for most of the products marketed in Europe fall within the EU competence, under the so-called common market organisations (CMOs).

As a crucial market tool, food labelling has been regulated by EU laws since the early 1990s.

In 2017, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) also laid down a new principle in the EU law, ruling that only products with ‘real’ milk inside can be marketed using the term milk, butter and yoghurt.

Contacted by EURACTIV.com, a Commission source confirmed that the French government has already notified Brussels of these amendments in their food labelling legislation.

The EU executive is now analysing them but has no further comment at this stage, the source added.

In its negotiating position on the post-2020 CMO for agriculture products, the European Parliament wants to reserve meat-related terms “exclusively for edible parts of the animals.”

There is much more than a mere legal issue behind a name, as it concerns the type of information to give the consumers.

Most consumers do not appear particularly concerned about the naming of veggie burgers, as long as they are clearly labelled as vegetarian or vegan, according to a recent survey from the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC),

Only one in five respondents think the use of meat-related names should never be allowed on vegetarian or vegan products, whilst 26.2% of them have no problem at all with using such terms.

The image of the gullible consumer unable to tell a meat-based food product from a plant-based one is paternalistic at best and an insult at worst, the European Vegetarian Union (EVU) wrote in a note commenting on the French law.

And the controversy over names for new veg-products does not end here.

A court ruling has recently forbidden food giant Nestlé from selling its plant-based burger under the “Incredible” burger name because of the strong visual and phonetic resemblance to the EU trademark of the US company Impossible food.

A Nestlé spokesperson told EURACTIV that they will abide by this decision but will be filing an appeal in parallel, as it is their belief that anyone should be able to use descriptive terms such as ‘incredible’ that explain the qualities of a product.


Agrifood news this week

European Parliament approves new committee on live transport of animals 
The European Parliament approved the setting up of an Inquiry Committee on live transport on Friday (19 June) with an overwhelming majority of 605 out of 689 MEPs in favour, after audits revealed major problems with the welfare of animals during transport. Read more here.

Commission irks Council, Parliament by opposing two-year bridging CAP gap 
The European Parliament and the Council have been irritated by the Commission’s firm opposition to having an interim two-year period before the next EU farming subsidies programme starts. See here for more details.

Sinkevicius: COVID-19 cannot be an excuse to curb EU’s green ambition 
Europe will always need packaging, and there will probably always be a place for plastic packaging but unnecessary packaging is simply a waste of resources, said European Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius in an interview with EURACTIV’s Gerardo Fortuna.

UK Environment secretary offers support for gene editing, diverges from EU stance
In an environmental audit meeting on Thursday (18 June), UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, George Eustice offered his support for gene editing after Brexit, saying that the UK government disagrees with the EU stance on the matter. Natasha Foote has the story.

EU lacks ‘complete overview’ about used cooking oil origins
The European Commission does not have a “complete overview” of the origin of used cooking oils used for the production of biodiesel consumed in the EU, but appears set to tighten the rules, according to sources close to the matter. Sarantis Michalopoulos has more.

Quote of the Week

“Food security is no longer a major concern for the European Union. Other challenges dominate the European food system, such as food waste, overconsumption, obesity and its overall environmental footprint.”

Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius MEPs in the European Parliament’s agriculture committee (COMAGRI) this week. Gerardo Fortuna has more.
Agrifood news from the Capitals

The United Kingdom announced a ‘bounce back’ plan of trade measures for the agriculture, food and drink industry on Tuesday (23 June), designed to allow businesses in the industry struggling in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak to grow their trade activity overseas. Natasha Foote has the story. (EURACTIV.com)

With more than 1,500 employees testing positive for COVID-19, the recent outbreak at the Tönnies meat plant in North Rhine-Westphalia has prompted further calls for reforms in the industry, which was already receiving intense criticism for widespread outbreaks in May, with Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) saying it’s “time to clean up this sector.” Sarah Lawton has more. (EURACTIV.de)

Senators gave the green light on Wednesday (24 June) to an upgrade for farmers’ pensions, as voted by the National Assembly, paving the way for its final adoption on Monday in the Chamber. The bill would increase the value of farmers’ pensions from 75% to 85% of the minimum wage by 2022. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

Farmers’ organisation Coldiretti and the Italian Society of Agricultural Genetic have signed an agreement to develop sustainable biotechnology in Italy. The deal will focus on the application of the latest-generation biotech to typical Italian varieties, representing a turning point in the troubled relationship between the farming world and biotechnology research in Italy marked by the heated debate on GMOs. See here for more background on this.  (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)

The Ministry of Agriculture has announced that Croatia has been officially classified as free from swine fever by the World Organization for Animal Health, with the last case of the disease in domestic pigs confirmed back in March 2008. In other news, an investigation will be launched into the death of bees in Međimurje, where more than 1,100 hives were killed, as a criminal offense. Suspicion of pesticide poisoning is high, but the toxicology analysis is currently still in process. (Karla Junicic | EURACTIV.hr).

A new report by the Personnel Service employment agency has highlighted agriculture as one of the best fields of employment for graduates to go into. The number of farmers is falling from year to year in Poland, but as the coronavirus epidemic has highlighted the importance of the agri-food industry, there is now a growing recognition for the sector and a demand for modern agriculture and well-educated specialists, the report claims.  (Mateusz Kucharczyk| EURACTIV.pl)

29 June- EU agriculture and fisheries ministers will hold a video conference to discuss the recent Commission communication on sustainable fishing and the state of play of some legislative proposals in the policy areas of agriculture and fisheries.
30 June – There is a EURACTIV virtual conference to discuss the role agriculture has to play in ensuring sustainable food systems that are resilient to potential future shocks. Learn more here.
1 July – EU organics association IFOAM is holding a virtual European Organic Congress 2020 between the 1-3 July, where policy-makers and expert speakers will speak about the latest policy developments, provide a platform for exchange, and discuss their visions for a post-pandemic Europe. See here for details.

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