Politics & Law

Belgium Ends War on Plant-Based Food Labelling: Vegan Burgers & Steaks Can Keep Their “Meaty” Names

Article update 15 Jan 2024: Fien Louwagie, Communications Manager, ProVeg Belgium, said: “Whilst the process for developing the guidelines has not officially changed, we believe it is unlikely to get any further before the next election. We hope that, post-election, the new Government will acknowledge the fact that consumers are not confused at all by plant-based foods carrying “meaty” names and will therefore abandon the development of guidelines altogether.”

The Belgian government has concluded the so-called “veggie war,” allowing plant-based products to display meaty names such as ‘vegan burger’ or ‘vegan steak‘, as revealed by Nieuwsblad.

The Minister of Economy, Pierre-Yves Dermagne, recently announced that Belgium would not establish guidelines on naming and labelling vegetarian and vegan products. The decision came amidst significant disagreement at the political level regarding proposed guidelines on labels for plant-based alternatives. 

In a recent review of the proposal, the green MEP Barbara Creemers voiced concerns that restrictive naming and labeling guidelines could impede the promotion of vegan options — an essential solution to address global warming

The plant-based food sector echoed her proposal, arguing that the risk of consumer confusion was greatly exaggerated. They questioned the severity of the problem, arguing that the worst outcome would be buying vegan chicken pieces instead of “real” chicken.

© Burger King

As reported by Nieuwsblad, the decision marks the end of a contentious debate that has been ongoing since 2020. The controversy began when the Boerenbond and the National Union of Butchers, Bacon Butchers, and Caterers established a working group to create “clear guidelines” for the labels and promotion of plant-based products

The proposed guidelines sparked a debate on the accessibility and promotion of vegetarian and vegan alternatives in the government, and three NGOs campaigning on food awareness, the Good Food Institute Europe, the European Vegetarian Union, and ProVeg International called on the Belgian government to reject the guidelines arguing they disrespect consumers and endanger EU market unity.

According to ProVeg International, the initial proposal included banning alternatives from using terms traditionally associated with animal products to prevent consumer confusion despite research showing that consumers are not confused by labels with meaty names.

©Delhaize

The importance of plant-based diets

The Belgian government’s resolution reflects a broader understanding of the importance of plant-based diets in promoting planetary health and combating climate change. Moreover, according to a study by the Belgian Association for Research and Expertise for Consumer Organisations, 11 % of Belgians identify as non-meat eaters.

Meanwhile, the governments of South Korea,  Poland, France, Switzerland, and Italy state that consumers are confused by current plant-based labels and are actively introducing restrictions and guidelines prohibiting animal food names.

Jasmijn de Boo, CEO of ProVeg International, said that national measures restricting plant-based products are in contradiction with the EU’s objectives of developing sustainable food systems, as stated in the European Green Deal and Farm to Fork Strategy.

“It would be ridiculous to censor plant-based products within the European Union at the same time as asking consumers to switch to a plant-based diet. Imagine censoring electric cars or recycled paper at this point in history,” commented Jasmijn de Boo in a statement last year.

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