The French Conseil d’Etat has asked the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to clarify whether the government’s decree banning the use of meat-like terms for plant-based products is compatible with EU law.
The governmental body is requesting information on whether individual member states can introduce this type of law, or whether EU-level harmonisation prevents this. If it is considered allowable to introduce the law, the Conseil D’Etat is seeking clarification on whether the decree is a proportionate way of achieving the goal of consumer transparency.
The requests come in response to a court case brought by The European Vegetarian Union (EVU) and other parties — who claim that the decree violates EU law — against the Conseil D’Etat. Once the ECJ has provided clarification, the court case will resume.
The decree was initially published last year, with the intention of banning the use of terms such as “steak” and “sausage” on plant-based foods. France was the first EU country to attempt to introduce this type of ban, backed by the country’s meat industry and farming lobby. However, the decree was suspended before it could take effect, after the body Protéines France lodged an urgent application for interim relief.
The developments in France echo those in another country, South Africa, which also attempted to ban the use of meat-like terms on plant-based products last year. The country’s Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development even threatened to seize products that did not comply.
However, the seizures were temporarily halted by the Johannesburg High Court on the day they were due to take place. On July 26 of this year, they were halted indefinitely following a court case brought by the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa. The Council successfully argued that the seizures were unlawful and a “significant overreach”; a review will now be conducted into the government’s decision to seize the products.
Meanwhile, other countries such as Australia and Belgium have also proposed restrictions on the way plant-based products can be marketed, leading to condemnation from organisations such as ProVeg International.
“These regulations are counter-productive and based on misunderstandings,” said ProVeg’s Global CEO, Jasmijn de Boo. “Plant-based foods are a vital key to solving the climate crisis as well as ensuring economic growth. Many meat and dairy companies themselves know this, which is why they are investing in both plant-based and animal-based foods, and in some cases switching to plant-based foods entirely.”