France bans use of meat terms on plant-based alternatives

Commodity watch by policy officer Sarah Morrell

France has become the first country in the European Union to ban the use of meat terms on vegan and vegetarian products. The ban was originally agreed in 2020 and will come into effect in October this year.

The decree will prohibit the use of terms traditionally used to describe meat products such as ‘sausage’, ‘steak’, and ‘bacon’, with the exception of burger, on plant-based alternatives. France is the largest producer of beef in the European Union and together the French Interprofessional Livestock and Meat Association (INTERBEV) and the National Federation of Farmers’ Union (FNSEA), lobbied for the changes to avoid consumer confusion, describing plant alternatives ‘as not comparable to their meat derived counterparts’.

The official decree reads, ‘’It will not be possible to use sector-specific terminology traditionally associated with meat and fish to label products that do not belong to the animal world and which, in essence, are not comparable.” The regulation is limited in that it will only apply to products manufactured or marketed in France, meaning imported products will still be able to use meat terms.

As the changes will not apply to imported products, French food industry associations are calling for widening of the regulation to apply to all products regardless of their origin and that similar laws should be enacted at the European level for the protection of meat products.

Currently at a European level only dairy terms and descriptions such as “milk” and “cheese” are protected. They cannot be used to label plant-based products such as soya drinks.

The protection of meat terms is not a new idea, as there was a debate on banning the use of meat terms use by alternatives as part of the CAP review in 2020, but unfortunately the proposal was rejected by MEPs. Ulster Farmers’ Union members regularly report frustration with the lack of protection for meat products compared to dairy produce.  As the framework already exist at a European level for the protection of milk and milk products, it would seem like a logical move to give meat products the same protection.

Whilst plant-based companies make a lot of noise on social media and our TV screens prompting their products, high price, lack of nutritional value and the taste of products have been curtailing sales over the past few years. According to AHDB figures, meat is still bought weekly by 87 percent of UK households. In contrast, meat alternatives only made it into nine percent of homes in January 2022, despite heavy promotion of plant-based products during ‘Veganuary.’

The changes to regulations in France, are thought provoking not only for NI as a key beef producer and exporter, but for the rest of the UK and Europe.