France: Authorities Question Online Retailers Over “Banned” Product Names

boutique vegan
© boutique vegan

Vegconomist reported some time ago on the legal developments in France regarding the debate over the correct labelling of vegan foods. The French Parliament had passed a new and controversial law banning the use of meat-like terms for plant-based alternatives. Recently, we received a report from the online retailer boutique vegan [offline], against which the French authorities now intend to take action despite the uncertain situation.

With over 4000 products, boutique vegan is the largest online store in Europe with a full range of vegan products. The e-commerce retailer described the procedure of the French authorities to vegconomist and explained the current situation. The following is the statement from boutique vegan:

  • Past:
    France prohibits meat-like terms for veggie alternatives

On April 13, 2018, an amendment to the law was made in France. The amendment was tabled by Jean-Baptiste Moreau. He is a cattle breeder, glyphosate supporter and member of the Macron party LREM.

The current amendment states that meat-like terms such as steak, fillet, bacon, and sausage may not be used for plant-based alternatives.

Since only a few concrete terms are mentioned, the situation is not very clear.

  • Present:
    Harassment of boutique vegan without legal basis

boutique vegan has been contacted by the Direction générale de la concurrence, de la consommation et de la répression des fraudes (DGCCRF). The DGCCRF is a French public authority: the Directorate-General for Competition, Consumer Protection and Anti-Fraud.

The DGCCRF’s demand: boutique vegan must refrain from using any form of naming reminiscent of meat or sausage products.

This is not just about the terms which are clearly prohibited by the amendment to the law. Any conceptual reference to animal species or meat or sausage products must be omitted. However, these are used to precisely describe characteristics such as the taste, consistency or texture of veggie alternatives. As a result, customers are no longer in a position to identify clearly and transparently what kind of food they are buying.

Would you know, for example, which foods are hidden behind the following names?
Names such as “Curled soya stick with smoky aroma” or “pea protein-based granules for soaking” do not just sound unattractive – the benefits of the products are also unclear.

There is no legal basis for this demand by the DGCCRF. This is confirmed by boutique vegan’s French lawyer. If the e-commerce company does not comply with the demand, high fines will be imposed.

  • Future:

boutique vegan goes to court – for the future of the vegan market

This unjustified claim can only be challenged at court level. Therefore, boutique vegan will go to court.

boutique vegan founder Miriam Brilla makes the following comments:

“This is a very important step and the judgement in court will be an important milestone for the future. It is about more than the terms for plant-based alternatives. It is about systematically intimidating and restricting a sustainable industry that is committed to our health, animal welfare and less suffering.”

Vegconomist will continue to monitor and report on the developments in this case. boutique vegan is certainly an exemplary example for the entire vegan sector of the French market. It remains to be seen how the courts will decide in this specific case and what the political consequences will be.