25 June 2019, 15:55 PM
  • Veggie discs, cauliflower slabs and nut juice: regulatory overkill? Sally Wynter investigates
The Vegan ‘Meat’ Debate

A vote by the European Parliament’s agricultural committee last month could mean a ban on words such as ‘burger’ and ‘sausage’ on labels for products that don’t contain meat. The vote last month to revise regulations passed with 80% approval leaving some to suspect meat lobbyist involvement after trends towards veganism and vegetarianism have seen profits dip. The British love affair with burgers and sausages and the recent trend towards meat reduction in our diets has culminated in a splurge of new brands indulging our changing habits. Search for “vegetarian burger” on Ocado, for instance, and you’ll be met with a whopping 88 results to choose from. Soy, bean, mushroom, lentil, quinoa… you name it, there’s a burger made with it. Gone are the days of the tiny freezer section baring only Linda McCartney sausages.

The revision, which will be voted on by the full European Parliament after the May elections before they are passed, could see the chop for terms that MEPs argue are ‘confusing’ and ‘misleading’ for consumers. Éric Andrieu, the MEP overseeing the legislation argued that support for the ban was based on “common sense”. “We felt that steak should be kept for real steak with meat and come up with a new moniker for all these new products,” he said. “People need to know what they are eating. So people who want to eat less meat know what they are eating – people know what is on their plate”.

But many are skeptical as to how banning the use of words like ‘burger’ and ‘sausage’ on labels will impact the public’s use of the words. Founder of nut-based, dairyfree ice cream, DAPPA, Oliver Jones suggested the effects of such restrictions had already seen limited success. “People aren’t going into coffee shops and asking for a coffee with almond drink. The popular vernacular has already progressed beyond the self-imposed limitations of the dairy and meat industry,” he explained. There have, however, been regulatory success stories with other British favourites such as the Cornish Pasty. In 2011 it was granted a PGI (Protected Geographical Indication), a European designation created to protect and preserve foods produced with a particular regional characteristic, recipe or production location.

Ruth Huxley, MD of Cornwall Food and Drink, has seen it as crucial in upholding the traditions of the pasty and protecting local businesses. “The protection was created because it was apparent other products were being made under the name ‘Cornish Pasty’ but not with the recipe or in Cornwall, which was unfair competition against the genuine article,” she explained. The designation, which requires production to be based within the county and adhere to a strict recipe, has meant demand has not been lost to imitators able to produce at a lower cost-point outside of the region. Huxley suggested the protection had also given the Cornish Pasty national recognition, “The protection itself isn’t necessary beneficial unless it’s used. Because people are aware of it, it means both consumers and wholesale buyers of Cornish pasties are asking for the genuine article.”

In 2013, high-street bakers Greggs was forced to change the name of their Cornish pasty as a result of the PGI. Despite reported plans to produce their pasty in Cornwall, the inclusion of peas and carrots within the pasty fell foul of rules stipulating the exclusive use of swede, potato and onion. The suggested EU labelling revision is supported by the National Beef Association who suggest the revisions are key in protecting terms used for meat-only products for hundreds of years.

Chris Mallon, national director, said they thought the stance taken by the French government was “very positive” and that current brands were “deliberately misleading consumers”. “Using terms like mince and sausage deceives the purchaser and leads to ‘remote control buying’ of vegetarian products they weren’t intending to buy. They see mince and they think pork or beef – especially if it’s in the meat section. Why market a veg product and give it a meat-based name?” Vegan Campaign Group Pro Veg, who launched a petition on 13th May to challenge the “irrational” EU decision, said they felt “confident” that “when we can show European consumers and producers do not want this regulation, reason will prevail.”

Pablo Moleman, leader of the petition campaign said: “The use of ‘burger’, ‘sausage’, and ‘milk’ wording on plant-based products actually serves an important function in communicating characteristics that consumers are looking for when buying plantbased products, especially in terms of taste and texture.” The Vegan Society, a charity similarly opposed to the measures, pointed out that the proposals would lead to “widespread administrative chaos, confusion and time wasting” if the bid is voted into effect. It has also launched a legal challenge against the EU in a formal letter warning that the decision would breach “fundamental human rights of vegans” that are set out by the Union. If passed, proposals would likely take several years to come into effect, meaning the status of the revisions would be subject to the outcome of Brexit.