First put forward by the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, the proposed legislation would restrict the use of descriptions such as ‘sausage, ‘burger’ and ‘steak’ to apply only to products containing meat.
The EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee received evidence from the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), the Vegetarian Society, Quorn Foods and the Vegan Society amongst others on the issue.
The majority of evidence given at the hearing was critical of the proposals, with claims that it would confuse shoppers.
Geoff Bryant, technical director at Quorn Foods, said the proposals were unnecessary. “We [Quorn] totally oppose the proposals and see them as totally unnecessary. They would add complexity to the business and confuse consumers. In 30 years of making meat-free products, we’ve not had a single person complain to us about being misled.”
Bryant added: “We already have good legislation in place in the UK on this issue.”
Ruth Edge, chief food chain advisor at the NFU, said the most important point was that consumers were not misled. “We welcome the ambition of the proposals, but feel they probably go too far. The way in which the products are labelled is the key aspect.”
She added that there were some concerns among NFU members about vegan products “mimicking” meat terminology. “The sector has got some fantastic products coming to market, but I don’t know why the vegan industry needs to ‘rip off’ or ‘mimic’ the meat industry when it already has a fantastic story to tell.
“There’s a concern over ‘lamb-style’ or similar terminology, which comes down to ensuring presentation and labelling isn’t misleading.”
A Vegetarian Society survey of its members found that 70% of respondents were either very negative or moderately negative of the proposed legislation. Reasons for opposing the legislation included: confusion; current legislation being perceived as adequate; burgers and sausages not being meat-specific terms and “cynical lobbying by the meat industry”.
Outside of the Lords debate, David Lindars, technical operations director of the British Meat Processors Association, told the BBC that the legislation would bring clarity for shoppers. “Terms like sausage, steak, burger and escalope are synonymous with meat and that should be made clear on labelling. If you are a sausage producer, then you are going to like this plan.”
MEPs are expected to vote on the proposals later this year.