Meat- and Fish Alternatives

Confused By This Plant-Based Seafood Label? The European Fishing Industry Says You Are.

As consumer interest in plant-based seafood continues to rise and more innovative alternatives are hitting supermarket shelves, representatives of the commercial fishing industry in Europe are calling for “transparency” in plant-based seafood labelling. To get the full picture, we spoke with industry expert Marissa Bronfman, who described the situation that took place in Brussels last week.

Conventional seafood lobbyists argue that the current regulatory framework misleads consumers on the nutritional value of products by using “fishy” terms such as ‘plant-based tuna’ or ‘vegan fish sticks’. In addition, they said that “confusing labels” could harm the fishing sector by undermining fair competition and eroding trust in the authenticity of seafood products.

Following ongoing label battles in meat and alt dairy, the Spanish seafood industry made a similar move in October, urging the Ministry of Consumer Affairs to review and withdraw plant-based seafood products using fish names on their labels.

Heura fish packaging
© Heura

Misleading labels

The EU Committee on Fisheries (PECH) held a public hearing in Brussels last week on the topic with representatives of the fishing sector, the European Vegetarian Union (EVU), and the newly-formed alternative seafood association, Future Ocean Foods, headed by Ms Bronfman, who did not attend in person but contributed insights and data via industry ally ProVeg International.

“Most importantly, The EVU “emphasized that legislative measures should support innovation in plant-based alternatives rather than hindering progress in the transition towards a more sustainable and environmentally friendly food system,” explains Bronfman.

Concerned about misleading claims, Yobana Bermúdez, president of the European Federation of National Organisations of Importers and Exporters of Fish (CEP), stated that from a nutritional perspective, fish and seafood products have no alternatives. She presented nine products, including Heura‘s plant-based fish and Unfished PlanTuna, to show that these labels use names, pictures, and health claims similar to ‘actual’ fish products, thus confusing consumers.

Bermúdez also highlighted that plant-based diets don’t need to include ultra-processed alternatives to animal products but rather more vegetables.
The secretary general of the Spanish Association of Canned Fish Manufacturers, Roberto C. Alonso Baptista, used Garden Gourmet‘s plant-based tuna “Vuna” as an example of a misleading product and label. He argued that the product was evocative of canned tuna but with more calories and a long list of ingredients.

Garden Gourmet Vuna product
© Garden Gourmet

An opportunity for change

Rafael Pinto, the policy manager for the European Vegetarian Union (EVU), defended Vuna, arguing that plant-based alternatives can use terms associated with animal products as long as the plant-based nature of the food is “clear” on the label (Food Information Regulation FIC 1169/2011). He said that labels should tell consumers what to expect from their products and gave various examples, including Bettaf!sh’s canned plant-based tuna.

“These terms give consumers orientation on how to prepare an alternative product, how to use it, what it tastes like,” he highlighted.

According to Pinto, data from the latest Smart Protein report on EU plant-based consumers showed that 84% of consumers were familiar with plant-based fish products, 40% of participants already eat plant-based fish, and 22% stated they want more fish alternatives.

Ordinary Seafood salmon
© Ordinary Seafood

Hindering progress

Future Ocean Foods, which has under its umbrella several European brands (such as Bettaf!sh, Ordinary Seafood, Revo Foods, Vegan Finest Foods, and Loki Foods), said that ‘not’ using fish or seafood terminology would confuse consumers.

Regarding nutrition, plant-based seafood is already a healthier and more sustainable alternative since it does not contain mercury, microplastic, and other pollutants. However, to continue innovating, Future Ocean Foods has partnered with The Good Food Institute (GFI), ProVeg International, and the Global Organization for EPA & DHA Omega3s (GOED) to find nutritional solutions for proteins and omegas in alt seafood.

Marissa Bronfman, founder and Executive Director of Future Ocean Foods, commented to vegconomist today: “The popularity of plant-based seafood has never been greater and we need policymakers to support and accelerate this innovation, rather than hinder it through unnecessary delays and barriers regarding labeling.

“The data clearly shows that consumers are well informed when choosing plant-based seafood and any change to current practices would only cause confusion in the market and likely slow down growth of the alternative seafood industry. With an exploding global population and global fisheries predicted to collapse by 2048, the need for alternative seafood solutions has never been greater. This is an opportunity for all stakeholders to work together and build a sustainable food system.”

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