Dominique-Hommel FRANCE © European Union 2011 – EP
On 23 October, the European Parliament (EP) voted on amendments to a law designed to reform the EU’s common organisation of the agricultural markets, which is one large component of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the EU’s most budget-intensive policy The amendments in question dealt with a hotly debated issue: the labelling of meat and dairy substitutes. Two amendments are relevant for us here: Firstly, amendment 165 related to the use of meat terms to describe plant-based products which stated that meat denominations should solely be used for products containing meat. This would have meant that vegetarian ‘burgers’ and vegan ‘sausages’ would disappear from supermarkets and restaurants. Secondly, a proposed to further restrict the variety of terms available to describe dairy-substitutes, making it impossible to have vegan soy-based yogurt-style’ products or a non-dairy cheese ‘substitute’.
Consumer groups and plant-based food companies strongly opposed the amendment, saying that banning the use of meat terms for plant-based products could create unnecessary confusion as consumers would have to understand the new peculiar names companies would now have to give their meat substitutes. It was argued that in fact, the reference to meat makes it clearer for consumers how to use the plant-based products in their meals. For that reason, it was also stressed that the amendment contradicted the EU Commission’s Farm to Fork Strategy, launched earlier this year, which aims at leading people towards more plant-based diets and less meat in order to reduce the risk for diseases and minimise the environmental impact of the food industry.
The good news for all vegetarians: the EP voted this amendment down with a close 55% (41% in favour, the remaining 4% abstaining) so banning the veggie burger is off (or rather: on) the table for now.
As for the dairy substitutes, preceding legislation already forbade the use of the term ‘milk’, ‘butter’ and the likes for non-dairy products (bearing some exceptions like peanut ‘butter’ and coconut ‘milk’). But amendment 171 proposed to take things one step further by also forbidding the use of words like ‘style’, ‘flavour’, and ‘substitute’ in relation to dairy products. Understandably, there was a similar outcry to that provoked by the meat amendment for the same reasons mentioned above. Big companies like Oatly even raised awareness for the issue on their social media platforms, campaigning against the adoption of the amendment.
Nonetheless, the EP approved the amendment with a close 56% majority. Now, the only hope left for the EU’s plant-based eaters and companies is that the EU interinstitutional negotiations further down in the legislation process will stop the ban of dairy-related terms for plant-based products from becoming reality.