Meatless Monday: France bans vegetarian producers from using meat words like “steak”

France has banned vegan food producers from using meat-related words such as bacon, sausage and steak to describe substitute products.

Jean-Baptiste Moreau, MP, first proposed the ban following an example set by the dairy industry last year.

The ban on products which subscribes itself as vegetarian sausage or plant burgers was misleading to consumers, according to Moreau.

On Twitter, Moreau praised the bill’s passage.

It is important to fight against false claims. Our products must be designated correctly: the terms cheese and steak will be reserved for products of animal origin.”

He pointed to the example set by the dairy industry last year, when the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that dairy terms such as milk, cream and butter should be reserved for animal products and must not be appropriated by manufacturers of plant-based foods.

Europe’s highest court warned that companies selling plant-based products such as almond and soya milk will have to be rebrand their products without the word milk, or face prosecution.

France’s decision is a worrying development for the meat substitutes market, and for other free-from food categories. Critics argue that products such as ‘almond milk’ and ‘vegetarian sausages’ benefit from their use of those words, helping them gain an advantage over companies that produce real meat or real milk.

It came in the form of an amendment to an agriculture bill that also affirmed the ECJ’s ruling on dairy alternatives. Any French company found to be in contravention of the ban could be fined as much as €300,000.

Specifically, the amendment targets the way in which such products are marketed: it doesn’t take away from previous recommendations from France’s National Agency for Food Safety (Anses), which last year advised French consumers to eat no more than 500g of red meat per week and a maximum of 25g of processed meat a day.

The US state of Missouri is also reportedly contemplating a ban on meat-related words in the sale of meat substitutes – the first example that France’s decision could have broader ramifications.

Mr Moreau’s tabled amendment says it is aimed at addressing “certain commercial practices misleading for the consumer, which associate terms such as ‘steak’, ‘fillet’, ‘bacon’ [and] ‘sausage’ that are not solely, or not at all, composed of meat.

“More generally, it is concerned with all denominations of products of animal origin – especially milk, cream and cheese.

“So a preparation based on meat and plant matter, like soy, which is very profitable for the producer compared to a pure beef steak, can be the subject of a ‘marketing’ presentation which gives an impression to the consumer that they are consuming only meat.

“Similarly, some vegetarian or vegan products paradoxically use meat vocabulary to put their products forward: ‘taste of bacon’, ‘vegan merguez’, ‘sausage substitute’… a principle of equivalence between a pure pork sausage and a ‘vegeterian sausage substitute’ is thus imposed on the consumer.

Violation of the law could result in fines of up to 300,000 euros.

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