On Friday’s table was a proposal to keep meat labels — such as burger, steak and sausage — off non-meat substitutes in the 27-nation European Union.
Europe’s meat industry backed the ban, arguing that consumers could be confused by the messaging and mistakenly buy a vegan rather than animal-based box of burgers. The E.U. has already banned labeling as “milk” or “butter” nondairy products based on alternatives such as soy.
COPA-COGECA, a Brussels-based union of two European agricultural umbrella organizations, launched a campaign called “ceci n’est pas un steak” (this is not a steak) in protest of what it called “cultural hijacking” that it said hurt hard-working farmers.
But European environmentalists pushed back, arguing that using terms such as veggie “discs” or “fingers” could deter would-be consumers looking to reduce their meat consumption.
“Consumers are in no way confused by a soy steak or chickpea-based sausage, so long as it is clearly labeled as vegetarian or vegan,” Camille Perrin, senior food policy officer at the Brussels-based European Consumer Organization, said in a statement. “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.”
She continued: “There is no doubt Europeans need to shift to more plant-based diets, both for their health and the planet. The best would be for consumers to cook more with legumes such as beans and peas instead of meat, but not all have the time and skills to do so.”
The proposal was one amendment within a package of agricultural measures. Another that did pass bans terms such as “yogurt-style” or “cheese-style” for nondairy imitation replacements. The larger farm bill was to be voted on later Friday.
Elena Walden, Europe’s policy manager for the Good Food Institute, a U.S.-based organization that promotes plant-based alternatives, criticized the latter ban in a statement as “further undermining the E.U.’s sustainability commitments.”
The European Parliament has issued an array of regulations around food labels, from Parmesan cheese to champagne, that European producers must follow.
ING Think, a global research firm, published a report Thursday estimating that sales of meat and dairy alternatives in Europe grew by nearly 10 percent over the past decade. The study estimated the market’s share would rise to 7.5 billion euros ($8.8 billion) by 2025, up from 4.4 billion euros ($5.2 billion) in 2019.
“The sheer size of the meat and dairy market and the small base for plant-based alternatives mean that, even at the current growth rate, it would take until the mid-2050s before sales of ‘plant-based meat and dairy’ could surpass sales of meat and dairy,” the report concluded.
Michael Birnbaum in Brussels contributed to this report.