French culinary traditions have long celebrated the prominence of meat on bistro menus. However, a culinary revolution is sweeping across France, with plant-based protein alternatives gaining popularity. This shift has ignited a fierce debate between livestock farmers and the vegan food industry over the terminology used on labels.
France’s agriculture ministry has now announced plans to ban the use of 21 meat-related terms, such as “steak,” “ham,” and “fillet,” from labels on all plant-based food products. This decision reflects the country’s deep-rooted tradition of national debates over the correct use of the French language in various domains.
If approved, France will join the ranks of several U.S. states and South Africa in enacting some of the world’s strictest laws against the use of meat-related terms to describe vegan foods. France’s agriculture minister, Marc Fesneau, emphasized the importance of transparency and consumer trust in food labeling. He stated that ending misleading food labels was a top priority for the French government.
However, Jasmijn de Boo, Global CEO of ProVeg International, an organization advocating for plant-based diets, disputed the government’s reasoning. In a telephone interview, she asserted that consumers are not confused and are well aware of their preferences for animal-free products. De Boo argued that these products should have names that people are familiar with, aligning with their plant-based nature.
The proposed code, which still requires approval from the European Commission, would prohibit food manufacturers from using terms associated with specific animal parts, such as “rump,” “flank,” and “loin,” when marketing or describing processed products containing plant proteins.
Another list of 120 terms, including “bacon,” “pastrami,” and “sausage,” will be permitted by French authorities to describe products of animal origin that may contain plant proteins. However, this allowance comes with the condition that the plant protein content does not exceed a specified threshold. Notably, the word “burger” is not included among the banned terms.
If the decree receives approval, food manufacturers will have a three-month grace period to comply with the new labeling regulations.
This move reignites a longstanding battle between French farmers and the vegan food industry over the labeling of products both on menus and in supermarkets. In a significant development last year, France’s highest court halted the agriculture ministry’s previous attempt to prohibit the use of meat-related names for plant-based foods, citing imprecise language in the government’s proposals. The revised decree has been carefully crafted to address these concerns, according to the French agriculture ministry.
In a country known for its devotion to culinary and linguistic traditions, this decree adds another layer to the ongoing debate surrounding the terminology used to describe the evolving landscape of plant-based foods.