MEPs keep veggie burgers on menu but dairy substitutes face restrictions

The “veggie burger” has survived — but “cheese substitutes” aren’t as lucky. 

EU lawmakers decided not to ban the use of meat-related names for plant-based substitutes such as “veggie burgers” and “vegan sausages” in a vote on Friday.

But they approved an amendment that can further limit the names of plant-based dairy alternatives such as “cheese substitute” or “yogurt-style.”

The vote — which was one part of the decision-making on the mammoth Common Agricultural Policy — comes at a time when the EU is looking at how to promote healthier and more sustainable diets. The Farm to Fork strategy, adopted by the European Commission earlier this year, says explicitly that “moving to a more plant-based diet with less red and processed meat … will reduce not only risks of life-threatening diseases, but also the environmental impact of the food system.”

The changes in the denominations of the plant-based foods were supported by the European meat lobby, which claimed that it’s in the interest of the consumers to know if products of certain names contain meat or not.

The potential new rules were heavily opposed by green and consumer groups and plant-based food producers.

Camille Perrin, senior food policy officer at BEUC, a consumer rights organization, said in a statement that it’s “great news that the European Parliament used common sense” and rejected the ban on meat-related names.

“Consumers are in no way confused by a soy steak or chickpea-based sausage, so long as it is clearly labeled as vegetarian or vegan. Terms such as ‘burger’ or ‘steak’ on plant-based items simply make it much easier for consumers to know how to integrate these products within a meal,” she added.

But green lobbyists also stressed that the result of Friday’s vote is only a half-victory as it could mean further limitations for producers of dairy alternatives, such as vegan cheeses or plant-based drinks.

EU law already bans the use of dairy terms like “milk,” “cheese” or “butter” for vegan products that don’t come from animal milk (barring some exceptions). That means “almond milk” or “soy cheese” aren’t allowed, but “almond drink” would be. 

The new rules go even further and, depending on the legal interpretation, could prohibit descriptors such as “yogurt-style,” “butter alternative” or “creamy.”

“The votes won’t change the fact that more and more people are eating more vegetables and switching to meat and dairy alternatives, for the sake of their health and the environment, and will continue to call dairy-free products ‘yoghurt’ and ‘cheese’ anyway,” Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director Marco Contiero said in a statement. 

Green groups hope that this change will be opposed by EU governments during the interinstitutional negotiations on the CAP reform.

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