France bans vegan ‘steaks’ and ‘ribs’

French farmers and meat producers have long argued terms like ‘vegan sausage’ confuse customers

Meat-free patties
France says the proposed ban on meat-related names is ‘an issue of transparency’
(Image credit: Corinna Kern/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

France is taking steps to ban meat-related names like “steak” and “spare ribs” on plant-based food products, citing a need to eliminate “misleading claims” in the food industry.

In June 2022, France attempted to become the first European Union country to enforce such a ban. But the initiative was suspended by the country’s highest administrative court just a month later, as it was deemed too vague and hastily implemented.

The newly unveiled draft decree is aimed at prohibiting the use of 21 meat-related terms, including “steak”, “escalope”, “spare ribs”, “ham” and even “butcher”, when describing protein-based products. These rules apply only to products manufactured and sold within France, which is the EU’s biggest agricultural producer.

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More than 120 meat-associated terms such as “cooked ham”, “poultry”, “sausage” or “bacon” will remain authorised for use, provided that these products do not exceed specific plant proteins thresholds, ranging from 0.5% to 6%.

Meat-related names on vegan products ‘confusing’

The introduction of meat-related names on plant-based products has ignited controversy and “anger” among livestock farmers and meat processors in France, who argue that these terms confuse consumers, reported Reuters.

French agriculture minister Marc Fesneau said the new decree demonstrated the government’s commitment to ending “misleading claims” in the French food industry. He described the proposed ban as “an issue of transparency and loyalty, meeting the legitimate expectations of consumers and producers”.

Current labelling ‘not misleading’

Critics, however, argue that these restrictions are unnecessary, saying that current labelling practices do not mislead consumers. Speaking to The Guardian, Guillaume Hannotin, a lawyer for the Proteines France organisation, which represents manufacturers of vegan products, pointed out that terms like “plant-based steak” have been in common usage for decades.

A 2020 study published in the Journal of Animal and Environmental Law found that descriptors such as “burger”, “beef” and “butter” in conjunction with “vegan” and “plant-based” do not confuse consumers. In fact, the study suggested that avoiding these terms on vegan products could actually lead to more confusion, particularly over the “taste and uses” of the products, according to Jareb A. Gleckel, the study’s author.

Another study conducted by the vegan group ProVeg similarly discovered that consumers rarely experienced confusion when meat-related names were used in conjunction with “vegan” and “plant-based” descriptors. The study revealed that only 3.6% of respondents mistakenly purchased vegan “nuggets” when intending to buy animal-based ones; the vast majority intentionally chose the meat-free products.

However, some manufacturers dismiss these arguments as a “red herring”. Alan Bjerga, from the National Milk Producers Federation in the US, which shares concerns about the use of “milk” in non-dairy plant-based products, emphasised that worries extend beyond consumer confusion to “the implied similarity in nutritional content”. Consumer confusion, he told Modern Farmer, is a “well established” issue.

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 Sorcha Bradley is a writer at The Week and a regular on “The Week Unwrapped” podcast. She worked at The Week magazine for a year and a half before taking up her current role with the digital team, where she mostly covers UK current affairs and politics. Before joining The Week, Sorcha worked at slow-news start-up Tortoise Media. She has also written for Sky News, The Sunday Times, the London Evening Standard and Grazia magazine, among other publications. She has a master’s in newspaper journalism from City, University of London, where she specialised in political journalism.