Three years ago, in June 2017, a European law banned the term “milk” when used on packaging and promotional material of plant-based milks (oat, almond, soya…). The terms “butter”, “cream”, “yoghurt” and “cheese” were equally prohibited for products that don’t contain their animal counterparts. On the 27th of May 2020, a proposition for a similar law has been approved. This law will expand upon the previous to include all terms attributed to meat. In this article, we will discuss the reasons behind this proposition and explain its consequences at a national, European and international level.
What this new law says
The bill, adopted on the 27th of May 2020 at the French National Assembly, aims to “guarantee the accuracy of all information given to consumers and to reserve commercial terms (steak, fillet, bacon, sausage, foie gras and cheese) for products which contain animal proteins“.
The excerpt of the article L. 4127. – I. – states that “Denominations associated with animal products cannot be used to describe, promote or sell nutritional products containing a significant part of materials with vegetable origins”.
The final law has not yet been published. It will contain a list of banned terms which may include “nugget” or “émincé” (thinly sliced). The law will also detail what will happen to expression as “bacon taste” or “sausage substitute”.
The French government will apply sanctions and fines to any business found not to obey the new law. Nevertheless, a transition period will be put into place to allow businesses to adapt and sell their existing stock.
Why is this law coming into effect now?
As a direct result of lobbying
Because of the fast development of the plant-based market and of the drop in meat consumption, key players from the meat industry are worried for their future and profits. This proposed law has been put forward by meat industry lobby groups including INTERBEV¹ and INAPORC² in order to slow the development of plant-based products and to try to mitigate the decline in meat consumption.
¹ Association Nationale Interprofessionnelle du Bétail et des Viandes (The Interprofessional National Society of Livestock and Meats) ² Interprofession Nationale Porcine (The Interprofessional National Society of Pork)
Not to “mislead consumers”
The bill decries a lack of transparency. In effect, for certain lobbyists and political figures the use of terms such as “sausage” can deceive consumers even if the terms “vegan” or “vegetarian” are also present. This is paradoxical in that terms “vegan” and “vegetarian” are actually present to inform consumers on the origin (animal or vegetable) of the products to avoid buying the wrong product in error.
Animal protection charities have denounced the hypocrisy of this bill, justified by the will for transparency, even though factories and abattoirs are refusing to install surveillance cameras that would demonstrate the transparency that they are requesting. A major issue that animal rights activists have with slaughterhouses is that inside investigations have routinely revealed that animals are not killed by regulations. This causes a lot of suffering as they are often slaughtered whilst still conscious. A surveillance system would ensure proper conduct and reduce animal suffering.
To preserve French heritage
Meat has been an integral part of French cuisine. This is why the law claims to protect French gastronomy heritage. In effect, “French gastronomy meals” feature since 2010 as part of the “world intangible cultural heritage” by UNESCO.
Here is an extract of the proposed law: “We don’t accept that those who fight against our heritage, our way of life, deeply imprinted onto our DNA, use the terms “meat”, “steak”, “milk” or “cheese”. These terms have had a singular meaning for both producers and consumers for thousands of years“. Therefore, this law accuses vegetarian or vegan businesses to fight French heritage.
The consequences of this law
Sales in France
Even if the primary objective of this law is to slow down the growth of vegan and vegetarian products, they will continue to develop rapidly in France. Sales of plant-based drinks have continued to rise despite the 2017 law banning the term “milk”. Indeed, more and more households are consuming plant-based milks in France and in 2018 they were 23% to have swapped to plant-based milks. We can therefore be confident in that this new law won’t have any negative effects on the growth of vegan meat substitutes.
What does this mean for companies exporting to France?
This law will apply to all products sold in France, regardless of the nationality of the producer, distributor or seller. This is likely to create problems, especially for the plant-based meat supplier Beyond Meat, which has started to integrate into Europe and for whom France represents a “key market” for Chuck Muth, Chief Growth Officer of the American giant. In effect, Beyond Meat has just opened their first factory outside of the United States and made their products available in France at Carrefour and Casino. The company will therefore have to rename products including their “Beyond Burger” and “Beyond Sausage”.
At the European level
As stated above, banning the use of the term “milk” for plant-based drinks was approved at a European level in 2017. We can therefore suppose that this law could also extend into Europe. What’s more, companies can decide to no longer use these terms in Europe. This will ease stock management as each product will only need one package.
After banning traditional dairy terminology, businesses have coined creative new descriptions for their products, like “Fauxmage” (false-fromage/cheese), “CamemVert” (green-Camembert). We can equally see expressions such as “Spread it like a cheese” or “Cook it like a cream”.
The use of words associated with dairy products, such as “grated”, whilst omitting the word cheese is equally common. Following this new law, businesses will have to be imaginative and find original and exciting new product names.
The final law will soon detail a list of terms banned in France for packaging and promotion when used for vegetarian and vegan products. Those who do not respect this law will be fined which will strain financial health of small businesses. It is therefore extremely important to be up to date with the list of terms for all those in the vegan and vegetarian industries.
If you need help to put in place a legislation watch or market monitoring strategy to stay up to date with everything that’s happening in your export countries, then contact Vegan the World Consulting to talk about it!