Two weeks ago, the European Union was debating a bill that would make it illegal to label vegan alternatives names like ‘burgers’ or ‘sausages’. If this was to be passed, companies would have to call their vegan burgers other names not suggestive to the traditional animal product version, such as ‘disks’ and sausages to be called ‘tubes’!
The so-called ‘veggie-burger ban’ was backed by Europe’s largest lobbying group, the farmers’ association of Copa-Cogeca, arguing that labelling plant-based substitutes with references bringing the traditional animal product to mind was misleading for consumers. It’s worth knowing that this association gets a special private one-to-one meeting with the president of the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development, which weirdly no other organisation gets, only the lobbying group for animal farmers…
Thankfully, the EU voted against the veggie-burger ban, so we can carry on using this naming for vegan products. HOWEVER, the European parliament did vote in favour of Bill 171, another piece of legislation prohibiting companies to label their products as ‘alternatives to-’. So in addition to already not being able to label soy milk as ‘milk’, a law which was passed in 2017, forcing companies to use the terms ‘soy drink’ or ‘soy milk alternative’, it is now illegal for them to call it a dairy alternative. This also applies to cheese alternatives and yoghurt alternatives. This Bill was tabled by the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development who have a history of voting in favour of agri-business.
Those in favour of the ban say the terms mislead people and amount to a “cultural hijacking” of the meat industry. The meat lobby’s proposal states “Names currently used for meat products shall be reserved exclusively for products containing meat”. Jean-Pierre Fleury, from Copa-Cogeca said “This is an obvious case of cultural hijacking,” and that “Certain marketing agencies are using this to deliberately confuse consumers.”
So you want to talk about clear marketing?
Those who backed the ‘veggie burger ban’ based their arguments on the fact that using words like burger and sausage to describe their plant-based alternative is so misleading for consumers, that we mistakenly buy them and go home and think “oh darnit, we bought the vegan ones by accident!”.
What is ridiculously ironic is animal industries are calling vegan products misleading – what isn’t misleading about the marketing animal industries use? Animal activist, Earthling Ed says in his Youtube video in which he talks about the ban “You can call your brand Happy Eggs when you macerate or gas male chicks as soon as they are born, you debeak the hens, you lock them in barns and then you slaughter them at 72 weeks old by pulling a blade across their throat. You can call that Happy Eggs because that’s not misleading at all”. Jasmijn de Boo, from the the food advocacy organisation ProVeg International, rightly said: “This is clearly nonsense. Just as we all know there is no butter in peanut butter, consumers [buying veggie burgers] know exactly what they’re getting.”
And following that logic, we should be calling bacon pig flesh, steak cow flesh, and on the back of the packet it should say explicitly what happened to those animals before they ended up neatly in a plastic packet in the supermarket.
That would be clear marketing.
But instead they get away with stamping red tractor labels on animal products claiming animal welfare standards were met (when the welfare scheme is owned and operated by the very same animal companies they’re meant to be holding accountable), they broadcast adverts of cows happily munching on grass and they show documentaries on the BBC of British farmers lovingly stroking their livestock, when a few weeks later they’re sending their beloved animals to the slaughter house. It’s unfair to sell animal products without letting consumers know what they’re really buying.
If you want to talk about clear indisputable marketing, it needs to go both ways.
What This Shows
It is crazy to think that this ‘veggie-burger ban’ almost passed, let alone it was even considered. Surely there are much more pressing and important pieces of legislation that should be up for debate. What I hope this highlights, though, is the lengths that animal industries will go to to make sure you carry on eating animals. They are scared at the progress we’re making within the vegan movement and the rapid decline in demand for their products.
What they fail to realise is that people are not accidentally buying the vegan products thinking they’re the ‘real thing’ simply because the word cheese is on the packet; people are making a conscious choice to buy the vegan version because we are seeing through the false claims and clever marketing animal industries are using in attempt to cover up the cruelty behind their products.
A Move Towards a Vegan World
People are making a conscious choice to live a more compassionate, healthy and sustainable lifestyle in alignment with their values. We are realising that we can achieve the same flavours and textures from the foods we love with plants without the need for an animal to be harmed. We are realising that animal agriculture is one of the leading causes of climate change and that the planet cannot cope with feeding nearly 8 billion people with animals products. We are realising that we do not need to consume these products to be healthy, and in fact, these products have been damaging our health and are causing chronic diseases.
These companies need to recognise that consumers are moving away from their products and want a more compassionate and healthy world, and so should adapt their industries to meet these new demands. Of course vegans are not wishing for farmers to go bankrupt and lose their livelihoods – we are striving for a systemic change in agricultural systems where plant agricultural farmers receive the subsidies they need to make veganic farming a viable option for them to transfer to.
Common Agricultural Policy
On that note, in the same week of the veggie-burger ban debate, the EU has also voted against a reform to the common agricultural policy, which aimed to ensure farmers had to implement more environmentally friendly measures in order to receive the same amount of subsidies. They are protecting the wallets of animal farmers over the environment, with them signing away 360 billion euros to industries destroying the planet. They have actively shown how little they care about the environment, and for the sake of hamburgers (oh wait, are burgers made of ham though?).
Let’s Talk About EU Pork
And, just to top it off, the EU’s multi-billion euro campaign called ‘Let’s talk about EU pork’ is still ongoing which aims to encourage more millennials to eat pork as the EU is worried about a consumption decrease due to concerns over animal welfare and sustainability. The EU is spending billions trying to make people eat pork, which not only contradicts an undeniable amount of evidence suggesting it is destroying our planet (and our health), but actively favours an industry which gasses billions of pigs every year (yes, put them in a gas chamber – seen as the most ‘humane’ way of killing a pig).
The aim of this blog post was simply to raise awareness to the efforts being made behind the scenes to ensure that profits made from animals continues on undisturbed. But I think it does the exact opposite: it shows how desperate they are becoming, and would make anyone suspicious that the only way they are making people consume their products is by lobbying large organisations.
What is also quite upsetting about the Bill 171 that passed, is that because the legislation states that no reference must be made to the traditional product (i.e. alternative to), it means companies cannot compare their products to the original animal product version. This means corporations such as Oatly (who have done this well) cannot state statistics on their packaging which explain how their oat milk is better for the environment compared to cow’s milk, or how it has a better health profile than dairy. This means we need to become more creative about how we spread the vegan message, because it’s been made so difficult to even advocate now on vegan product packaging.
If you would like to learn more about the corruption behind policy making around the production and marketing of animal products, I recommend watching the documentaries Cowspiracy and What the Health, both available on Netflix. These are also a great way to educate family and friends rather than asking them to read a whole book, for example!