Veggie Burgers Could Soon Be 'Veggie Discs' in Europe

Farmers are fed up with meat words being used for plant-based alternatives.

making tofu sausages
A factory worker makes tofu "sausages" that could soon be referred to as "tubes.".

Sigrid Gombert / Getty Images

The European Parliament has a big decision to make this week. It is debating whether or not to ban terms such as "veggie burger" and "vegan sausage" that critics say could mislead consumers into thinking they contain meat. Similarly, terms that describe plant-based products using words made from animal foods, such as "yogurt-style" and "cheese-like," could be banned, too. Should the proposal be passed, "steak," "sausage," "escalope," "burger," and "hamburger" could only refer to meat products.

The controversy was kicked off by farmers claiming that the ongoing use of these terms by plant-based food companies represents "cultural hijacking" and is both "surrealistic" and misleading. Jean-Pierre Fleury, a spokesman for Copa-Cogeca, a trade body for EU farmers, says the farmers' work deserves more respect:

"We are about to create a brave new world where marketing is disconnected from the real nature of products, which is just asking for things to spin out of control."

The farmers' opponents include large numbers of plant-based eaters, reducetarians (people striving to eat less meat), young people (who have embraced meatless eating at higher rates than older generations), NGOs such as Greenpeace and Birdlife, and even large corporations like IKEA, Unilever, and Nestle, all of whom think it's absurd to assume people can't tell the difference between plant- and meat-based foods. The European Medical Association described the proposed ban as "disproportionate and out of step with the current climate."

A petition circulated by ProVeg states that the proposed changes contradict the EU Parliament's recommendations in the European Green Deal and the Farm to Fork strategy, which "explicitly states the need to empower consumers 'to choose sustainable food' and to make 'it easier to choose healthy and sustainable diets.'" With ever-increasing numbers of studies showing that animal agriculture has an outsized environmental footprint, it makes choosing plant-based meat alternatives a greener option by far. The petition has gathered nearly 230,000 signatures at time of publishing this article. 

Jasmijn de Boo, Vice President of ProVeg International, said that plant-based alternatives have existed for a century and were never a problem until now, as they've entered the mainstream market and pose more of a threat to animal farmers. Nor is there any solid evidence that shoppers are confused by the products:

"The use of the terms ‘burger’, ‘sausage’ and ‘cheese alternative’ on meat-free and dairy-free products serves an important function in communicating characteristics that consumers are looking for at point of purchase, especially in terms of taste and texture. Just as we all know full well that there is no butter in peanut butter, no cream in coconut cream, and no meat in mincemeat, consumers know exactly what they’re getting when they purchase veggie burgers or veggie sausages."

There is already a precedent for this proposal. France took steps in 2018 to restrict labeling on vegetarian and vegan foods. It passed a bill stating that food producers can no longer call products "steak," "sausage," or other meat-related terms if they do not contain animal products. The rules also apply to dairy, meaning no more vegan cheese or soy milk, and failure to comply can result in a fine of up to €300,000 ($353,000).

It will be interesting to see what direction this decision takes. While the EU Parliament's stance does not dictate what individual nations must do, it becomes an official position and sets the tone ahead of negotiations with various EU bloc members.

Meanwhile, enjoy this satirical video released by ProVeg about the proposed veggie burger ban: