In October, the European Parliament ruled that food products not containing meat could still be labeled “burgers” or “sausages” in the EU, allowing plant-based food makers to continue to label their products as “veggie burgers” or “veggie sausages.”
This came as a blow to animal agriculturists and meat producers who brought forth a measure that would ban plant-based meat alternatives from being referred to by the names of their meat counterparts.
Chris Wells, global food safety consultant with Seaton Food Consultants, says that vegetarian alternatives to sausages and burgers have been available in the EU for many years and, to aid vegetarian and non-vegetarian consumers in understanding what the products are, the terms “sausage” and “burger” have been used throughout that time.
“It appears that the growing consumer interest in flexitarian eating combined with the growth of non-meat products may have started to concern meat producers,” he tells Food Quality & Safety. “But, whatever the underlying reasons, meat producers encouraged the EU to make these descriptors unique to meat products. The recent vote clarified that the terms may still be used for a vegetarian product, and thus maintains the status quo.”
U.S. Labeling Laws
The labeling of non-meat products is already a hot topic in the U.S., and has been an ongoing debate for several years. There is no shortage of controversy surrounding this topic; many states have passed laws stipulating that only foods made of animal flesh are allowed to carry the labels “meat,” “sausage,” “jerky,” “burger,” or “hot dog.”
The Plant-Based Foods Association provides voluntary industry standards for labeling of various sub-categories of plant-based foods, including plant-based meats. They are engaged in policy battles as lobbying against The Real MEAT Act, which would codify the definition of “meat” for labeling purposes, require the use of the word “imitation” on plant-based meat labels, and expand jurisdiction of the labeling of plant-based foods to USDA if FDA fails to act. The organization has also been fighting state labeling restriction bills in Mississippi, Wisconsin, and other states.
In fact, in October, vegan brand Tofurky sued the state of Louisiana over SB 152, which prohibited both plant-based and cell line meats from using the terms “meat” and “beef.” Another plant-based product company, Upton’s Naturals, has filed a federal lawsuit against Oklahoma for the state’s Meat Consumer Protection Act, which will force them to put the words “vegan” and “plant-based” in giant letters on their packaging.
“Hopefully these cases, as well as with the recent EU decision, will keep the path clear for plant-based companies to continue expanding,” Madsen told FQ&S. “Beyond the moral, health and environmental reasons for vegan foods, more choices are good for consumers.”