Food labelling – distinguishing between meat & non-meat products; the UK position

The European Parliament Agriculture Committee last month voted in favour of terms used to describe meat products being reserved exclusively for products made from meat; therefore vegetarian and vegan burgers and sausages would be classified as “discs and tubes”. It would be illegal to sell veggie ‘burgers’, ‘sausages’, ‘escallops’ and ‘steaks’.

This would reflect the same restrictions that currently protect dairy products for example ‘soya drink’ now replaces the description ‘soya milk’ as the dairy milk replacement following a ruling of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).  The Court in this instance, observed, in particular, that the addition of descriptive or explanatory terms could not completely exclude the likelihood of confusion on the part of consumers. As regards the principle of equal treatment, the Court found the respondent, TofuTown, could not rely on unfair treatment by arguing that the producers of vegetarian or vegan substitutes for meat or fish are not subject to restrictions comparable to those to which producers of vegetarian or vegan substitutes for milk or milk products are subject. it was stated those products were dissimilar and were subject to different rules. it would therefore be necessary for further legislation to be introduced in the same way as there are protected reserved descriptions for diary products (EU legislation on designations for milk and milk products for meat products Regulation 1308/2013.) 

The argument against this move is that consumers are not misled by these terms but rather they play an important function in communicating characteristics that consumers are looking for when buying plant-based products, especially in terms of taste and texture. Also that the legislation would be unnecessarily restrictive on a growing and innovative industry where the terms have been successfully used for a range of products for decades and without evidence of confusion.

In response to a question on this the Defra Minister, David Rutley, said that the UK Government was aware of a proposed amendment but that it “has a long way to go through the legislative process."  He went on to state "if the amendment is accepted, Defra will seek views from all UK stakeholders and, while we remain a member of the EU, consult with other EU Member States. Our objective will be, as always, to ensure the regulatory framework protects consumers’ interests while avoiding unnecessary regulatory burdens on food businesses.” 

 

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