Farmers ask EU parliament to ban terms such as 'veggie burger'

FILE PHOTO: A vegetarian Curry-wurst is pictured at Ziervogels Kult Curry in Berlin, Germany, April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Stefanie Loos

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Restaurants and shops in the European Union could be barred from marketing products as “veggie burgers” or “vegan sausage” if farmers get their way in a debate this week in the European parliament.

Proposed amendments to a farming bill would also prohibit describing non-dairy items as being “like” or in the “style” of milk, butter or cheese.

Farmers say the measures are needed to protect consumers from being misled. Medical groups, environmentalists and companies that make vegetarian products say it would be a step backwards in meeting the bloc’s environmental and health goals.

The amendments will be discussed during debate of wider agricultural reforms. The European Parliament cannot impose the changes on its own, but would adopt a position ahead of negotiations with the bloc’s member countries.

Under one proposed amendment, terms such as steak, sausage, escalope, burger and hamburger would be permitted only for products containing meat.

The European Court of Justice already banned the likes of “soy milk” and “vegan cheese” three years ago, ruling terms such as milk, cream, butter, cheese and yoghurt cannot be used for non-dairy products. A proposed amendment would go further, barring marketers of plant-based foods from comparing them to dairy with words such as “style”, “type”, “method” or “like”.

European farmers association Copa Cogeca says the European Union should put an end to “surrealistic” descriptions. It argues that condoning such terms as “vegan burger” would open a Pandora’s box that would confuse consumers and harm farmers.

In the opposite corner, a group of plant-based food proponents, including producers Unilever and Ikea as well as the European Medical Association, called the proposals “disproportionate and out of step with the current climate”.

Some party groups are seeking a softer approach. A proposal backed by the Socialists would continue to allow terms for meat-free products that have been in use for a long time, as long as packaging makes clear they contain no meat.

Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Peter Graff