Environmental groups campaign against EU’s potential ‘veggie burger’ name ban

Policy director at Greenpeace says proposals come from ‘prehistoric age’

Rory Sullivan
Thursday 15 October 2020 10:26 BST
A plant-based burger is pictured in Konolfingen, Switzerland, on 28 September, 2020.
A plant-based burger is pictured in Konolfingen, Switzerland, on 28 September, 2020.

Environmental groups across Europe have hit out at an EU proposal to ban plant-based products from using terms such as “veggie burger”, saying it contradicts the bloc’s objective to encourage sustainability. 

The organisations’ grievance concerns two amendments proposed by Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI) which would restrict the naming of meat and dairy alternatives to avoid consumer confusion.

Under the measures, plant-based products would be banned from being advertised using words such as “burger”, “sausage”, “yoghurt style” and “cheese alternative”.  

Critics say this will favour the meat and dairy industries and will unfairly affect the growing plant-based food sector, which provides more sustainable products. 

If MEPs vote in favour of the amendments next week, they could become part of the Common Agricultural Policy that would come into effect at the start of January 2023.

In a letter sent by 13 leading environmental organisations to MEPS on 8 October, the proposals were criticised for contravening the European Green Deal, which seeks to reduce the agricultural sector’s environmental footprint.

The groups argue that the move goes in the “completely opposite direction” to scientific evidence showing the harmful effects of the meat and dairy industries, and against growing demand for plant-based products.

Marco Contiero, the EU agriculture policy director at Greenpeace who was one of the letter’s signatories, told The Independent that there was “no justification” for amendments which go against environmental, health and economic considerations.

Mr Contiero added that they constituted an “attempt to prevent a new, very important business from actually conquering the market”.

Referring to the proposals, Mr Contiero said: “They are coming from a prehistoric age. And they are justified in a ridiculous way by stating that this will confuse consumers.”

Echoing this sentiment, Asger Mindegaard, a policy officer for agriculture with the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), said: “The Commission’s proposal is likely to confuse European consumers who are already accustomed to terms such as ‘veggie burger’ or ‘plant-based steak’. In many cases, people buy such products specifically because they want to replace one specific meat product with a healthier alternative.

“The common goal of governments, businesses and institutions should be to encourage the uptake of sustainable solutions and alternatives. Instead, in this case we are all wasting time debating a superfluous regulation that will benefit only a few big players in the meat industry.”

ProVeg International, a food awareness organisation, is also against the “veggie burger ban” and has started a petition calling on MEPS to vote against the proposed restrictions. It has so far gained more than 139,000 signatures.

Jasmijn de Boo, the Vice President of ProVeg International, said: “The proposals are in direct contradiction of the EU’s stated objectives in the European Green Deal and Farm to Fork Strategy to create healthier and more sustainable food systems.

“The Farm to Fork Strategy explicitly states the need to empower consumers ‘to choose sustainable food’ and to make ‘it easier to choose healthy and sustainable diets’.”

Next week’s vote comes one month after the UN released a report that people should eat more plant-based diets as part of a drive to halt “unprecedented” losses to the natural world. 

According to the European Commission’s Plant Protein report, meat and dairy products are growing each year at a rate of 14 per cent and 11 per cent respectively. 

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