Meatless plant-based products can still be called burgers and sausages, EU rules

·2 min read

The steaks were high in the European Parliament as it decided meatless and plant-based products can still be called sausages, burgers and other words traditionally associated with meat.

During votes on issues relating to agricultural products, politicians decided that so-called veggie burgers, soy steaks, and vegan sausages can be sold as such in restaurants and shops across the EU.

Europe's largest farmers' association, Copa-Cogeca, had supported a ban, arguing that labelling vegetarian food with terms that inspired thoughts of meat was misleading.

Copa-Cogeca said allowing such terms would open a "Pandora's box" of confusing wording, but 13 organisations - including Greenpeace and WWF - urged politicians to reject the proposed amendments.

They argued that a ban would discourage consumers from shifting to more plant-based diets, while undermining the EU's environmental and health goals.

Being unable to use the words "steak" or "sausage" could make the products more obscure for consumers, and the move would expose the EU "to ridicule," they said.

Swedish EU lawmaker Jytte Guteland welcomed the decision, saying: "I'm going to celebrate with a vegan burger."

The "common sense" ruling was also praised by the European Consumer Organisation, which said the public is "in no way confused by a soy steak or chickpea-based sausage, so long as it is clearly labelled as vegetarian or vegan".

The group - along with Greenpeace - regretted the bloc's banning of terms like "almond milk" and "soy yoghurt" when it ruled in 2017 that plant-based products cannot be marketed as dairy, saying it should be reserved for animal products.

A majority of EU lawmakers also voted this week in support of even tighter curbs on the labelling of plant-based dairy substitutes.

They backed a ban on terms such as "milk-like" or "cheese-style" for products that contain no dairy ingredients.

The labelling rules are part of a bigger EU farming policy package, which parliament needs to approve before striking a compromise with member states on the final policy.

Elena Walden, policy manager at the non-profit Good Food Institute Europe, called on EU countries to "clear up this mess and reject confusing and unnecessary restrictions on plant-based dairy products".

Green lawmakers and campaigners, including Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, have called on the EU parliament to throw out the entire farming policy package, arguing the measures are insufficient in helping to curb the sector's emissions and minimise the environmental effects of intensive factory farming.

Vegan and plant-based products labelled with terms originally linked to meat have grown in popularity in recent years.

One notable beneficiary of this trend is Bakery chain Greggs, which reported a huge uptake in purchases of the vegan sausage roll it launched last year.