France proposes ban on meat words on vegan protein labels


French people are known around the world for their culinary traditions and the reverent status enjoyed by meat on menus across the country’s bistros. But times are changing — with plant-based protein alternatives growing in popularity in recent years, pitting livestock farmers and the vegan food industry into a fierce war over which words can be used on labels.

Now, France’s agriculture ministry says it plans to ban the use of 21 meat terms — including “steak,” “ham,” and “fillet” — from labels on all plant-based food products — in a nod to another of the country’s proud traditions: national debates over the correct use of the French language.

If approved, France will boast some of the world’s strictest laws banning the use of meat terms to label vegan foods, and join several U.S. states, and South Africa, in restricting the words manufacturers can use to market them.

“It is an issue of transparency and loyalty which meets a legitimate expectation of consumers and producers,” said France’s agriculture minister, Marc Fesneau. in a statement on Monday, unveiling the draft decree. He said that putting an end to misleading food labels was a key priority of the French government — and that the ban was important for maintaining the trust of consumers.

Jasmijn de Boo, Global CEO of ProVeg International, which campaigns for plant-based diets, rejected the French government’s reasoning in a telephone interview Tuesday. “Consumers are not confused,” she said. “They know perfectly well what they’re looking for: food made free from animals. That’s why these products should have logical names that people are familiar with.”

E.U. rejects proposal to ban labeling plant-based foods as veggie ‘burgers’

According to the proposed code — which must still be approved by the European Commission — food makers will be completely prohibited from using words associated with particular animal parts such as “rump,” “flank,” and “loin,” when marketing or describing processed products containing plant proteins.

A second list of 120 terms, including “bacon,” “pastrami,” and “sausage” will be allowed by French authorities “to describe foodstuffs of animal origin which may contain plant proteins,” but only if the plant protein levels do not exceed a specified threshold, the decree says. The word “burger” does not appear on the list of banned words.

If it passes, food makers will have three months to comply with the decree.

In a country famed for its loyalty to culinary and linguistic tradition, the decree reignites a fierce battle between farmers and the vegan food industry over labels on menus and in supermarkets. Last year, judges in France’s top court halted the ministry’s previous attempt to prohibit using meat names for plant-based foods, saying the government proposals used imprecise language. The rewritten decree accommodates the court’s concerns, France’s agriculture ministry said.

The big problem with plant-based meat: The ‘meat’ part

Plant-based meat alternatives have grown popular in France in recent years with vegetarian and vegan options increasingly appearing on restaurant menus — belying the country’s traditional reputation as a challenging destination for vegetarian and vegan travelers. According to one analysis of NielsenIQ retail data, French consumers spent around $120 million on plant-based meats in 2022 — a 17-point percentage increase 2020 sales levels.

De Boo welcomed the shift toward plant-based diets, fearing that the proposed decree could make it harder for consumers hoping to reduce their consumption of meat by making labels more confusing. “It only makes sense to protect the dairy and meat industry,” she said, noting the outsize contribution of both sectors on greenhouse gas emissions and contribution to climate change. “We need to rapidly shift globally to plant-based diets, at least a few days a week.”

In the United States, several states have passed laws prohibiting companies from marketing plant-based products using words such as meat, burger, sausage, jerky or hot dog — although some have been challenged in the courts. In Arkansas, several civil rights organizations successfully challenged the state’s version of the law in federal court on behalf of Tofurky, the plant-based food manufacturer, arguing that it violated the U.S. Constitution. Last year, South Africa announced a ban of its own on “meaty” names for plant-based foods — forbidding the use of descriptions like “plant-based meatballs” and “vegan nuggets,” and Turkey even banned the sale of all vegan cheese completely.


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