In April, the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development agreed to seek to restrict the use of descriptions like “sausage”, “burger” and “steak” to apply only to products containing meat and not to vegetarian alternatives.
Under the EU rules proposed in Brussels, veggie burgers could be rebranded “veggie discs” and vegetarian sausages turned into “veggie tubes”.
On Wednesday, the House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee held a roundtable discussion with experts from the farming, vegetarian, and food industry to find out their opinion on the proposal, also known as amendment 41.
During the meeting, Mark Banahan, campaigns and policy officer at the Vegan Society, argued that terms such as “veggie burger” and “veggie sausage” have been used for decades and questioned the reason for the drive to restrict such phrasing.
“To implement these changes now would actually create confusion rather than alleviate it,” stated Banahan.
Geoff Bryant, technical and engineering director of Quorn Foods, concurred with the Vegan Society's opinion, adding: “We totally oppose the proposal, we think it’s absolutely unnecessary.
“In over 30 years of making meat-free products, we’ve not had a single person has complained to us that they’ve ben mislead.”
Some MEPs previosuly said they believe the proposal came at a push from Europe’s meat lobby which is keen to protect its profits and crush a trend towards veganism and vegetarianism among young people.
"It’s obviously an attempt to attack vegetarian meat substitutes. For me, it’s number one a sign that the meat lobby is worried about a rapid change in diets, especially among young people – a lot of which is about their response to climate change,” Green MEP Molly Scott Cato previously told The Independent.
Speaking at the roundtable, Laura Sears, individual giving officer at the Vegetarian Society, said that the organisation recently asked its members and several businesses it works with about the issues they would face if the proposal was approved.
Out of the 1,225 people who completed a survey from the organisation, 70 per cent stated negative reviews of the proposal, citing that foods named after shapes would “lead to more confused shoppers”, it would be difficult for businesses to change their marketing, and could be counterproductive to the government’s environmental aims.
“If this change puts people off eating vegetarian food through confusion, dislike of the term, or any other reasons, this could impact negatively on us achieving our environmental goals,” Sears explained.
Ruth Edge, acting chief dairy adviser at the National Farmers’ Union, added that her organisation “[wants] to see clear and unambiguous labelling” on meat-free products.
“We welcome the ambition of the proposal to add clarity but we do feel in places it goes too far,” she added in reference to the specific use of the terms “burger” and “sausage”.
“Where the term ‘burger’ or ‘sausage’ is being used, we would like that to be with a descriptor, whether that be ‘beetroot burger’ or ‘quorn sausage’," she said.
However, Edge also argued that the union is more supportive of protecting more traditional, “primal products” like the term “steak”, adding that she has concerns with labelling on products such as “vegetarian duck”. The adviser said her organisation does not believe words like “burger” and “sausage” falls into that category.
On several occasions during the roundtable, Lord Teverson, chair of the sub-committee pointed to a precedent set in 2017 after the European Court of Justice ruled that soya milk could not be described as “milk” because it does not contain any dairy. The plant-based alternative is now known as “soya drink”.
Teverson questioned the discussion’s attendees why changing the terminology relating to meat was any different to that previously concerning milk.
“The industry adapted to the legislation before it was popular with consumers,” said Bryant, referring to the legislation on the term “milk”.
“The complexity and the cost to go backwards, and then the confusion to consumers is just totally unnecessary.”
The proposal will be voted on by all the parliament’s MEPs in autumn 2019.
Read the full text of the proposal here.