There is no evidence that using terms like “burger” or “sausage” to describe meat-free products confuses shoppers, according to a House of Lords committee. Plans to change EU laws in order to restrict the use of such terms are therefore “unnecessary and would undermine EU policy objectives on climate change, the environment and public health”, noted the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee.
In April 2019, the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development agreed an amendment to the Commission’s proposal for the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, which would restrict the use of descriptions such as “sausage”, “burger” and “steak” to products containing meat.
However, having completed an inquiry into the issue, the committee found nothing to suggest that the terms are misleading.
“[We] heard no evidence that consumers had felt they were misled by meat-free products and less than 4% of people had ever unintentionally bought a vegetarian product instead of a meat free version,” the Committee said. “Further, witnesses were unanimous in the view that current naming conventions around vegetarian burgers and sausages in particular are clear and easy to understand.”
For example, Dr Geoff Bryant from Quorn Foods told the committee that: “In over 30 years of making meat-free products, not a single person has complained to us that they were misled.”
Mark Banahan from the Vegan Society argued that the amendment could lead to the use of “a plethora of terms” that would be less clear for consumers and would “create the same confusion that it seeks to alleviate”.
The British Meat Producers Association did not call for a ban on meat descriptors for non-meat products but suggested some manufacturers of meat alternatives are “subtly fooling” customers.
The labelling of these “imitation products” is becoming “increasingly ambiguous and misleading,” it noted in written evidence to the inquiry. “By using names like ‘meat free meat balls’, ‘vegetarian hoi sin duck’ and ‘veggie steak’, manufacturers are trying to convince consumers that their products have the same qualities and attributes as natural meat.”
The Association also suggested that manufacturers were piggy backing on “long established and implicit assurance of quality, standards and nutritional value that belongs to the meat version of those products and not necessarily to their new highly-processed ‘plant-based’ or lab-grown versions”.
The amendment is part of the CAP reform negotiations and so is unlikely to take effect until after the UK has left the EU. However, if it was implemented in the UK the Lords Committee has concluded that it would “reduce consumer clarity, be a barrier to growth for a burgeoning sector of the food industry, and ultimately make it more challenging for people to reduce the amount of meat in their diet at a time when government should be seeking to encourage the opposite”.
Last month, the Eating Better coalition of over 50 organisations launched a road map to reducing meat and dairy consumption in the UK by 50% by 2030 while simultaneously shifting towards sourcing “better” animal protein.