The NFU believes in clear and unambiguous labelling to allow shoppers to make informed choices about the products they purchase. That was the clear message from chief food chain adviser Ruth Edge when she appeared before the House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee evidence session into proposed restrictions on naming vegetarian food (watch again here).
The Lords enquiry comes after the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development agreed in April to seek to restrict the use of descriptions such as 'sausage', 'burger' and 'steak' to apply only to products containing meat and not to vegetarian alternatives.
Committee members are also be exploring what changes, additions or exceptions would improve the proposal, and whether it would be beneficial for the UK to follow suit if this rule were introduced in the EU post-Brexit.
The NFU would like to see labelling legislation revised to further protect customary and traditional meat terms. All food products have specific ingredients and their own nutritional properties; this is why using the same term for products in different food categories should be avoided.
Appearing as part of a House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee round table discussion today (19 June) Mrs Edge said: “We welcome the ambition of the proposal trying to add clarity but we do feel, in places, it goes too far. An example of that would be the terms sausage or burger – for us, it's very much about the description on the label. So, for example, a beetroot burger or a Quorn sausage. The way in which that label is presented is the key aspect.
“When it comes to terms like steak and other proteins, we feel more strongly that it needs to be protected. We have seen products come to market such as chicken-style nuggets – that’s where our concern lies.
“We know this is a growth area with more than 38% of main meals now meat free. What we do want to see is clarity of terms particularly where retailers are moving towards putting these meat-free products in the meat aisles which is a real change from where they’ve had designated sections within supermarkets.”
Above: NFU chief food chain adviser Ruth Edge gives evidence (19 June 2019)
Lord Teverson, Chair of the House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee, said: “As more people move towards a plant-based diet, the question of how we identify and describe vegetarian and vegan food is increasingly relevant. In holding this roundtable we’re intending to test the merits of this proposal and find out what it would mean for consumers and for the food industry.”
Also giving evidence to the House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee were Ms Laura Sears, Individual Giving Officer, Vegetarian Society UK, Ms Jackie Kearney, Chef, The Hungry Gecko, Mr Mark Banahan, Campaigns and Policy Officer, Vegan Society.
:: The full text of the proposal is available on p78-9 on the EU's report here