The Vegan Society has warned the proposals to ban the use of traditional names like ‘burger’ and ‘sausage’ for vegan and veggie food products will result in “excessive administrative burdens” to all public entities.
The charity has highlighted the proposed measures will not only impact vegans, but also public authorities that currently serve vegan food, such as government departments, health providers, education establishments, police forces and prisons.
It has legally challenged the plans in a formal letter to EU officials, signed by its CEO and prepared by a legal expert, on the grounds of breaching fundamental human rights of vegans that are set out by the Union.
The letter states the proposed measures contravene the EU consumers’ right to be informed adequately as to how goods can be used and denies the vegan community the benefits offered by EU law on clear labelling.
If the proposals are voted into effect next month, vegan and veggie burgers could become ‘discs’, and sausages ‘tubes’ among other products.
George Gill, CEO at The Vegan Society who signed the letter, said: “As consumers are increasingly moving away from eating animals, the demand for vegan products is growing. There’s no denying that meat, dairy and egg industries are feeling threatened by this and desperately trying to restrict the marketing of vegan products.
“These proposals have little to do with consumer protection and instead are motivated by economic concerns of the meat industry. We are calling on EU officials to reject these irrational measures for vegan meat alternatives to be banned from using the qualified conventional terms everyone has been using for decades.”
The 14-page letter includes an appendix with over 100 examples of plant-based food descriptors being used in the public and private sectors, suggesting many institutions would be affected.
Public authorities are obliged to provide plant-based food to vegans in their care as veganism is a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010.
Excessive amounts of time and money would have to be unnecessarily spent on revising menus in public sector institutions if the proposals are accepted.
Dr Jeanette Rowley, Vegan Rights Advocate at The Vegan Society, said: “This proposed measure is not aligned with EU policy on respect for diversity.
“It is not in the public interest and, if implemented, would have a disproportional impact across society by affecting the normal daily functioning of all public and private entities that provide food.
“This EU measure threatens to cause widespread administrative chaos, confusion and time wasting trying to understand how to plan a meal that includes a veggie disc or a veggie tube!
“The widespread impact of this unreasonable and costly proposal should not be underestimated.”
Dr Rowley quotes in the letter the European food labelling laws that state “food information should … enable consumers to identify and make appropriate use of food” and argues the use of ‘meaty’ names informs the consumer how the plant-based products can be cooked and used.
The Vegan Society dismissed what it sees as unlawful proposals, calling them “an attempt to bolster a depressed agricultural economy” and warned they would “create confusion across the EU” if put in place.
It argued the proposed measures do not achieve the required threshold for implementation as the EU rules recognise that “any limitation of fundamental rights must respect the principle of proportionality and meet objectives of general interest”.
The rights and equality provisions available to the vegan community have not been included in the assessment of the validity of the proposed measure, which has not, according to the charity, taken into account all relevant stakeholders in the EU community.
Alternative vocabulary put forward such as ‘vegetable disc’ does not constitute clear food labelling under EU consumer law because such terms do not describe or facilitate ease of interpretation, nor make it easy to perceive the food item in question.
The EU has 21 days to respond to the letter, after which the matter will be escalated by The Vegan Society.
The text of the full letter is available here.