Saucisse and desist: France cracks down on non-meat terminology

Lawmakers rule that veggie and vegan products may not be labelled with meat-related names

Landscape view of Paris on a sunny day

If you’re trying to buy a delicious cauliflower steak, veggie sausage or bean burger in France in future, then it might be an idea to look at the picture on the packaging, rather than the words. That’s because products that don’t come from an animal have been banned from describing themselves in terms that suggest they do.

The suggestion was put forward as an amendment to an agriculture bill by Jean-Baptiste Moreau, an MP who is also a farmer, and who clearly believes that appellations such as “mince”, “bacon” and “steak” are duping unwary meat-eaters into buying plant-based products. Somewhat crazily, French lawmakers agreed, and the bill was passed last month. Moreau, a member of President Emmanuel Macron’s ‘La République En Marche!’ party, tweeted: “It is important to combat false claims. Our products must be designated correctly: the terms of #cheese or #steak will be reserved for products of animal origin!”

So from now on makers of environmentally friendly veggie and vegan products will have to come up with alternative words for all manner of animal-derived foods, from veggie “ham” slices to “chicken” pies made of soya and tofu burgers. Last year, the European Court of Justice put the kibosh on plant-based alternatives to milk, butter and cheese being described as such, which is what inspired Moreau’s amendment. While the whole thing may sound silly, the penalties for non-compliance can run to a rather serious €300,000 (£260,000).

Responses to the move have ranged from the incredulous to the unconcerned, with one British consumer interviewed by The Independent saying: “This is ridiculous. No carnivore has ever bought veggie sausages or Quorn thinking they were buying meat.” Others have perceived it an attack on the increasingly popular meat free market by a livestock industry that is concerned about its bottom line and its future, as more people cotton on to the environmental and health benefits of cutting down on their meat consumption.

Wendy Higgins, of Humane Society International, said: “It’s a shame that instead of embracing vegan and vegetarian food, France has adopted a position of defensive paranoia. But ultimately it won’t stop the rise of compassionate eating, because the delicious, nutritious, Earth-friendly and ethical benefits will prevail regardless of what you call the products.”