Steak out: Campaigners call for suspension of ‘manipulative’ decree to ban vegan food terms 

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A new decree by the French Government which would extend the country’s ban on meat and dairy invoking terms for plant-based foods has been  criticised by a leading animal ethics group as a “manipulation” by the French agriculture ministry, which it has branded “the Ministry of Meat”. 

A new proposal to ban 21 terms like ‘steak’, ‘beef’, ‘ham’ and ‘grill’ from plant-based meat labelling was announced last week by Marc Fesneau, the French agriculture minister. 

The move is the latest development in an on-going row over the terminology used by plant-based food brands to describe their products. Last year, France last year became the first country in the EU to attempt to issue a decree protecting meat-derived words against use by plant-based products. But the government’s first decree was was suspended by France’s top administrative court, the council of state. The court has asked for guidance from the European Court of Justice (ECJ) before making its final ruling at a later date.

France’s agriculture ministry says that, with the new decree, it has taken the court’s complaints that the original decree was too vague, despite the fact that the ECJ has a yet to make its ruling. 

In 2017 the ECJ ruled that plant-based food firms could no longer use dairy terms such as ‘milk’, ‘butter’ and ‘cheese’ to deserve their dairy alternative products.

Commenting on twitter, Brigitte Gothière of the animal ethics group L214, said that banning terms such as ‘vegetable steak’ and ‘vegetable sausage’ was a “scandalous…manipulation”. She alleges that the argument being made by the French Ministry that such terms confused consumers is spurious: “Do people confuse motor oil, olive oil and jojoba oil? I don’t think so. No more than they confuse vegetable steaks with beef steaks.” She added: “Instead of listening to scientists who say that we must reduce our meat consumption by 50 to 90%, our Minister acts in the opposite way and prioritises the interests of the livestock industry, going against the public interest.”

Guillaume Hannotin, a lawyer for the planet-based food advocacy group  Proteines France organisation representing makers of vegan and vegetarian alternatives, said the term “plant-based steak” had been in use for more than 40 years. He told the French news agency AFP that France’s new decree still contravened EU regulation on labelling for the products, and has called for a suspension of the new decree. 

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