Goodbye veggie burgers, hello ‘veggie discs’: crackdown on food labels
EU ban on producers of vegetarian food using nomenclature usually deployed to describe meat
Is it a burger . . . or is it a veggie disc?
Veggie burgers are for the chop, a Brussels committee has decreed, to be replaced by the less palatable-sounding “veggie discs”.
And it won’t be just bean or mushroom burgers condemned to the food bin of history. Vegan sausages, tofu steaks and soya escalopes could all be approaching their ultimate best-before date, after a vote in the European parliament on revisions to a food-labelling regulation.
In a move that some MEPs suspect bears the fingerprints of the meat industry, the parliament’s agriculture committee this week approved a ban on producers of vegetarian food using nomenclature usually deployed to describe meat.
The protected designations would include steak, sausage, escalope, burger and hamburger, under a revised regulation that passed with 80 per cent approval. The measures will now be voted on by the full parliament after May’s European elections, before being put to member states and the European commission.
The French socialist MEP Eric Andrieu, responsible for overseeing the legislation, said the prohibition was just “common sense” and he appealed to Europeans’ sense of foodie history.
“The meat lobby is not involved in this,” he said. “It has generated a considerable debate among the political groups and a large majority wanted to clarify things. Particularly in the light of history, the history we share, you can have a steak or burger, you can’t call it something else.”
The decision to protect meat-related terms and names “exclusively for edible parts of the animals” was firmly opposed by NGOs such as Greenpeace and Birdlife who insisted it presented a blow against sustainable food.
Veggie disc has emerged as one possible, yet possibly unpalatable, new name for plant-based burgers.
Andrieu said MEPs had voted purely in the best interests of the consumer and it should be seen as an opportunity for vegetarian brands to make their mark.
“We felt that steak should be kept for real steak with meat and come up with a new moniker for all these new products. There is a lot to be done in this front, a lot of creativity will be needed,” 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.”
Molly Scott Cato, a Green MEP who sits on the agriculture committee, said she had taken some comfort from the development, although she had some doubts about the motivation behind the new labelling rules.
“The suspicion is that this has come from the meat industry out of panic at the fact that young people are moving away from eating meat,” she said. “It is a clear indication that they are worried about their market being undercut - and that’s quite a good sign. There certainly didn’t seem to be a lot of consumer demand for it.
“It wasn’t as if people were buying veggie burgers and asking: ‘Where’s my meat?’ People are moving increasingly towards a plant-based diet, and young people at a terrific speed.”
The MEP for South West of England and Gibraltar said she hoped the name prohibition could lead to food producers giving up on trying to emulate the meat-eating world.
“Rather than say ‘I can’t eat bacon so I am going to make something that tastes like bacon out of some weird micro food’, you can have a very nice cuisine that starts with vegetables and not a meat substitute. I think this could unlock a lot of creativity. My personal favourite is nomato soup, which is a tomato-tasting soup made of peppers.”
It could take a number of years before the regulation comes into force, but Andrieu called on the EU’s institutions to “get on with it”.
In 2017 the European court of justice ruled that plant-based products such as soya and tofu should not be sold as milk or butter. It said dairy terms could only be used while marketing designated animal products, after complaints from German competition regulators about the German firm Tofutown’s tofu butter, veggie cheese and rice spray cream products.
“Purely plant-based products cannot, in principle, be marketed with designations such as milk, cream, butter, cheese or yoghurt,” the court said. Cocoa butter, coconut milk and salad cream were exempted under EU law but that “is not the case for soya or tofu”.
The EU is following the lead of France, where MPs last year passed an amendment to an agriculture bill prohibiting any product that is largely based on non-animal ingredients from being labelled like a traditional animal product.
Brussels has regularly been accused – particularly in parts of the media – of unduly meddling in food regulations, with the best known example, albeit wholly inaccurate, being the prohibition on bendy bananas. – Guardian