You can’t call it a veggie ‘burger’ or almond ‘milk’… if MEPs say so in meat-industry vote

Vegetarian and environmental groups want Malta MEPs to vote for healthy diets, not meat industry demands

What should consumers call veggie burgers? Well… not burgers, at least according to some members of the European Parliament.

The European Parliament will this week decide how European citizens can call vegan food products like veggie burgers, veggie sausages, steak and others. Plant-based products would need to be called disks, patties or tubes.

“The excuse being put forward by MEPs is that people are not mature and intelligent enough to know the difference between a veggie burger and a meat burger and can be misled. If these amendments pass, it will show that powerful lobbies like the meat industry can control free speech in Europe through money and financial influence,” said Darryl Grima, the coordinator of vegetarian association Veggy Malta.

The European Parliament is considering two amendments that would prohibit the use of meat and dairy-related names for plant-based foods, which would also include terms like “vegan sausage” or “yogurt-style”. These amendments fall under one of the three files that make up the mammoth Common Agricultural Policy reform, specifically covering how products can be marketed.

Critics say the proposed restrictions would be in direct contradiction to the EU’s stated objectives in the European Green Deal and the Farm to Fork Strategy of creating more sustainable and healthier food systems, by empowering consumers “to choose sustainable food” and to make “it easier to choose healthy and sustainable diets”.

The meat and dairy industries argue that using such terms is misleading to customers. The push to ban terms like veggie burgers, which have existed for decades, comes as the alternative meat market is growing more mainstream. It also comes at the time when the European Commission’s Farm to Fork strategy is promoting healthier and more sustainable foods, another potential threat to the meat and dairy sectors.

One of the proposed amendments says that “the meat-related terms and names that are currently used for meat and meat cuts shall be reserved exclusively for edible parts of the animals. The amendment adds that designations such as “steak,” “sausage,” “escalope,” “burger” and “hamburger” should be “reserved exclusively for products containing meat.”

The second amendment concerns a similar issue, but for the dairy sector. 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” isn’t allowed, but “almond beverage” would be.

The amendment in question goes even further, seeking to prohibit names like “yogurt style” or “cheese substitute”, as well as more descriptive terms like “creamy”.

“Malta is registering a growth in vegan food consumption just as is happening all across Europe and the European Union should be supporting the change to combat climate change and improve the health of Europeans. In last week’s edition of Malta Meat Free Week, we registered a record number of participants taking the challenge, which is a witness to the silent change that is happening even locally,” Grima said.

“Against the backdrop of the global COVID-19 pandemic, factory-farmed meat production in the EU is on the rise, and is putting the climate and human health at risk. Unsafe working conditions on factory farms and slaughterhouses put workers in danger and increase the spread of diseases including COVID-19. The COVID-19 crisis has proved the fragility and inhumanity of the system which makes cheap meat possible, and how much it depends on unethical and unfair conditions for workers.”

Martin Galea De Giovanni, Chairperson of Friends of the Earth Malta, called upon the six Maltese MEPs to vote against these two amendments and to build a better food and farming system in solidarity with people and regions across Europe. “It is time for Europe to put the public interest before big business and to realise that the CAP cannot be a one size-fits-all. We need a fundamental reform of the CAP to create a better and sustainable society, driving change beyond the narrow proposals currently being discussed.”

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