Let veggie burgers be burgers, says Lords committee

Peers say a ban on using “meaty” names to describe plant-based products would restrict efforts to reduce meat eating

In the great battle over the right to be called a burger, it’s good to know that the House of Lords is on the side of the green and righteous.

A Lords committee looking into recent attempts by an EU group to prevent plant-based foods being described using terms derived from meat products has written to the agriculture minister. They are pushing back at the idea that consumers might be misled by foods that have “meaty” names – such as beanburgers, veggie sausages and vegan bacon – but contain no meat.

After hearing the testimony of several experts, the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee chairman, Lord Teverson, said in his letter to Robert Goodwill that renaming much-loved meat free products could “make it more challenging for people to reduce the amount of meat in their diet at a time when government should be seeking to encourage the opposite.”

In April, a Brussels agriculture committee approved a ban on applying carnivorous nomenclature to meat free products. The proposal was to have been voted on by the EU parliament after European elections in May, then put to member states and the European commission to ratify. With new members, however, the proposal must now be reassessed by the agriculture committee, which will either abandon the plan or put it forward for possible ratification later in the year.

Teverson told Goodwill: “Our witnesses were unanimous in the view that current naming conventions around vegetarian burgers and sausages in particular are clear and easy to understand.” Quoting Ruth Edge of the National Farmers’ Union, he added: “Those are traditional items for the UK market, and consumers are very familiar with those terms anyway.”

The concern, the peers said, was that adding a whole raft of alternative names for established meat alternatives would confuse consumers and “may create a barrier for consumers who are trying to reduce their meat intake”.

That opinion was echoed last month at an All Parliamentary Group meeting on vegetarian and vegan issues, entitled: “Veggie Vurger, anyone? EU proposal to restrict plant-based descriptions.” The group heard that companies needed to stick with “familiar” meat-derived names in order to fuel the shift towards greener, more planet-friendly diets, and concluded there was no evidence to suggest that the use terms such as burger and sausage was intended to mislead.

As the Lords committee heard from Geoff Bryant of Quorn Foods: “In over 30 years of making meat-free products, not a single person has complained to us that they were misled.”

In the US state of Arkansas, meanwhile, legislators are taking a step backwards. A “truth in labelling” law has come into effect, designed to “protect consumers from being misled or confused by false or misleading labelling of agricultural products that are edible by humans”. It means the Natural State has banned foods that aren’t derived from an animal from using words that might lead consumers to think they were – such as burgers, bacon, sausages – although producers of plant-based foods have launched a legal challenge.