French Government Moves to Ban Words Like ‘Milk’ and ‘Meat’ on Vegan Food Labels

French Government Moves to Ban Words Like 'Milk' and 'Meat' on Vegan Food Labels
iStock/Todor Tsvetkov

The French Parliament decided Thursday to outlaw the use of words like “sausage,” “steak,” “burger,” “milk,” and even “bacon-flavored” when referring to vegan versions of traditional meat- or dairy-based items.

The measure was put forward by Member of Parliament Jean-Baptiste Moreau, a cattle farmer and member of President Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche! centrist party.

“It is important to combat false claims,” tweeted Moreau last week. “Our products must be designated correctly: the terms of #cheese or #steak will be reserved for products of animal origin.”

Moreau based his argument in part on a European Court of Justice decision from June 2017, which ruled that terms including “milk”, “cream”, and “cheese” could not be used to refer to certain plant-based foods including soy milk.

The new French law must be debated by the National Assembly before being adopted; a public forum is planned for the end of May. If the law is passed, companies who use these words to refer to plant-based items may face fines of up to €300,000.

Moreau indicated in his argument that using these words to refer to plant-based foods can mislead shoppers. This is the same reasoning put forward by Big Dairy last year with the DAIRY PRIDE Act, which sought to prohibit plant-based food producers from using words like milk and yogurt to refer to their products. Earlier this year, the United States Cattlemen Association similarly filed a petition with the USDA, demanding that the Agency define the term “beef” more specifically, ostensibly to prevent plant-based meat companies such as Impossible Foods, the maker of the plant-based Impossible Burger, from using the word.

Moreau’s argument, however, also targeted products that contain some meat but a “significant” proportion of plant-based ingredients. He indicated that a mixture of “meat and vegetable-based products, like soy, which is very profitable for the producer compared to a pure meat beef steak can be marketed in a way that gives the consumer the impression he is consuming meat only.”

“It’s a shame that instead of embracing vegan and vegetarian food, France has adopted a position of defensive paranoia,” Wendy Higgins of Humane Society International told the Independent regarding this decision. “But ultimately it won’t stop the rise of compassionate eating because the delicious, nutritious, Earth-friendly and ethical benefits will prevail regardless of what you call the products.”

A 2016 study from the French Ministry of Agriculture found that while 70 percent of protein consumed in France is of animal origin, consumption of meat and dairy is slowly falling in France. According to a November 2017 poll, more than ten percent of young French people have adopted some form of plant-based diet.

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Emily Monaco is a food and culture writer based in Paris. Her work has been featured in the Wall... More about Emily Monaco