France to ditch “meaty names” for vegetarian offerings
19 Jun 2020 --- France has adopted a new act with aims of elevating the transparency of information among agricultural and food products. For stakeholders of the plant-based food sector, led by the umbrella organization European Vegetarian Union (EVU), parts of this law have been decried as doing “the exact opposite” – causing “complications and opacity” for food products. The law mandates that names used to indicate foodstuffs of animal origin shall not be used to describe, market or promote foodstuffs containing vegetable proteins.
“We believe that ‘meaty names’ for vegetarian alternatives to meat products convey important information on what consumers can expect of a product. These denominations guide consumers in their purchase decisions in a straightforward way,” Ronja Berthold, Head of Public Affairs at the European Vegetarian Union (EVU), tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
“If meat alternatives needed to be given new, non-established names, customers would have to get information on characteristics such as appearance, taste, texture and preparation by means of additional text and pictures on the packaging. This would – for no plausible reason – overcomplicate the purchase process for consumers and limit their ability to make their own shopping decisions,” she asserts.
Sanctions will be incurred in cases of non-compliance to the French law. The sentiment behind this policy is that consumers confronted with a product name such as “vegan soya sausage” are at risk of being misled about the plant-based – and not meat-based – nature of the product. This is claimed to likely be the case even if both the product names and the ingredients lists clearly stress and inform of the fact that the product is not of animal origin.
plant-based revolution might be catching up to traditional meatpackers, Berthold responds, “I have to believe it is, because the proponents of this regulation claim that consumers are deceived by ‘vegan burgers’ or ‘vegetarian sausages’ and yet we are not aware of empirical evidence to prove this theory. Just claiming that there is confusion among consumers is, in our opinion, not enough to justify introducing such far-reaching regulations and yet, here we are.”When asked if this new policy might be a reflection of the livestock industry’s concerns that the
“The French Law claims to defend tradition in food markets when in fact it does the opposite: it breaks with tradition,” argues the EVU. “The use of product denominations such as ‘vegetarian schnitzel’ and ‘vegan tofu sausage’ for food containing vegetable proteins is well-established and has been used in the EU internal market for decades, and has not caused significant complaints from either consumers or traders.”
The organization flags that renaming established names and brands with “non-meaty fantasy denominations,” such as galette instead of steak, or disk instead of burger, would provide no further clarity for consumers of meat and would be unnecessarily confusing to consumers of non-meat products. “Indeed, it would instead undermine the EU’s consumer protection agenda by needlessly introducing uncertainty around the naming of plant-based foods.”
Discerning label literacy
The EVU opposes the notion that many consumers are unable to discern a meat-based food product from a plant-based one, even if it is plainly distinguished by the product name. “It is established case-law of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) since 1990 that the presumed expectations of an average consumer who is reasonably well informed and reasonably observant and circumspect are the benchmark,” the organization outlines.
A representation is misleading only if the average consumer is being misled, which has not been established by the French legislator, underscores the EVU. “Moreover, EVU and AVF are not aware of any evidence indicating that consumers were misled by this practice, which is the main argument of the supporters of the restrictions.”
Evidence from other EU Member States suggests the contrary. A study conducted by the Federation of German Consumer Organizations (VZBV) stated that only 4 percent of German customers have ever unintentionally bought a vegetarian product instead of a meat product or vice versa. “This very low number illustrates that labeling which includes references to conventional sales denominations is not perceived as problematic by the general public,” note the plant-based sector stakeholders.
While the new French law is currently at the beginning of the Technical Regulations Information System (TRIS) notification period on the European level, the law was already published in France’s government gazette Journal Officiel de la République Française, thereby granting it an official standing.
“As EVU we have officially contributed to the TRIS notification process. The law is currently in the standstill period and this process is designed to give stakeholders, the EC and Member States the chance to evaluate new national laws for potential obstructions to the free movement of goods in the internal market. We have notified the authorities of our formal and substantial concerns with this law and are now awaiting reactions,” Berthold tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
Last July, ten animal protection, consumer, environment and food NGOs united in an open letter to urge members of the European Parliament to drop proposals to outlaw phrases such as “vegan sausage roll” and “veggie burger” across the EU. Petitions against this proposal gathered around 80,000 signatures.
By Benjamin Ferrer
To contact our editorial team please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Subscribe now to receive the latest news directly into your inbox.