Veggie discs’ to replace veggie burgers in EU crackdown on food labels

Vegetarian food producers must revise names if MEPs agree new rules to protect meat terms

Vegan and vegetarian sausages and steaks hanging on hooks.
 Vegan and vegetarian sausages and steaks hanging on hooks. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

Veggie burgers are for the chop, Brussels has decreed, to be replaced by the less palatable-sounding “veggie discs”.

And it won’t be just bean or mushroom burgers condemned to the food bin of history. Vegan sausages, tofu steaks and soya escalopes are all approaching their ultimate best-before date, after a vote in the European parliament on revisions to a food-labelling regulation.

In a move some MEPs suspect bears the fingerprints of the meat industry, the parliament’s agriculture committee this week approved a ban on the producers of vegetarian food from using nomenclature usually deployed to describe meat.

The protected designations include steak, sausage, escalope, burger and hamburger, under a revised regulation that passed with 80% approval.

The French socialist MEP Éric Andrieu, responsible for overseeing the legislation, said the prohibition was just “common sense” and he appealed to Europeans’ sense of foodie history.

“The meat lobby is not involved in this,” he said. “It has generated a considerable debate among the political groups and a large majority wanted to clarify things. Particularly in the light of history, the history we share, you can have a steak or burger, you can’t call it something else.”

The decision to protect meat-related terms and names “exclusively for edible parts of the animals” was firmly opposed by NGOs such as Greenpeace and Birdlife who insisted it presented a blow against sustainable food.

Veggie disc has emerged as one possible, yet possibly unpalatable, new name for plant-based burgers.

“It is not about lobbying or anything like that, more like common sense,” Andrieu said. “We felt that steak should be kept for real steak with meat and come up with a new moniker for all these new products. There is a lot to be done in this front, a lot of creativity will be needed.”

He added: “People need to know what they are eating. So people who want to eat less meat know what they are eating – people know what is on their plate.”

Molly Scott Cato, a Green MEP who sits on the agriculture committee, said she had taken some comfort from the development, although she had some doubts about the motivation behind the new labelling rules.

“The suspicion is that this has come from the meat industry out of panic at the fact that young people are moving away from eating meat,” she said. “It is a clear indication that they are worried about their market being undercut – and that’s quite a good sign. There certainly didn’t seem to be a lot of consumer demand for it.”

“It wasn’t as if people were buying veggie burgers and asking, ‘Where’s my meat?’” Cato said. “People are moving increasingly towards a plant-based diet, and young people at a terrific speed.”

The MEP for South West of England and Gibraltar said she hoped that the name prohibition could lead to food producers giving up on trying to emulate the meat-eating world.

“Rather than say, ‘I can’t eat bacon, so I am going to make something that tastes like bacon out of some weird micro food’, you can have a very nice cuisine that starts with vegetables, and not a meat substitute. I think this could unlock a lot of creativity. My personal favourite is nomato soup, which is a tomato-tasting soup made of peppers.”

It could take a number of years before the regulation comes into force but Andrieu called on the EU’s institutions to “get on with it”.

The parliament’s vote followed the 2017 ruling by the European court of justice that plant-based products such as soya and tofu should not be sold as milk or butter.

The EU’s top court said dairy terms could only be used while marketing designated animal products in response to complaints from German competition regulators about the German firm Tofutown’s tofu butter, veggie cheese and rice spray cream products.

“Purely plant-based products cannot, in principle, be marketed with designations such as ‘milk’, ‘cream’, ‘butter’, ‘cheese’ or ‘yoghurt’,” the court said. Cocoa butter, coconut milk and salad cream are exempted under EU law but that “is not the case for soya or tofu”.

Concerns have been raised in the past about the health implications of babies being fed soya milk. The Food Standards Agency advises that while breast and cows’ milk are the best sources of nutrition, parents should continue to give their children the soya product if advised to do so by their doctor.

The EU is following the lead of France where MPs last year passed an amendment to an Agriculture Bill prohibiting any product that is largely based on non-animal ingredients from being labelled like a traditional animal product.

Brussels has been regularly accused, in the British media in particular, of unduly meddling in food regulations with the best known, albeit wholly inaccurate, being the prohibition on bendy bananas.

Should the Commons finally ratify the withdrawal agreement, the British government would likely have to put the regulation into force if there was an extended transition period after Brexit day, whenever that might be. Even if the UK is outside the EU by the time the labelling rule is applied, it is likely Britain would follow Brussels’ lead.

Under article 17 of regulation (EU) no 1169/2011, names currently used for meat products and meat preparations will be reserved exclusively for products containing meat, MEPs have decided.


Veggie burgers, quorn sausages, soya escalopes and seitan steaks.


Veggie discs, quorn tubes, soya slices and seitan slabs.

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