photo by radocaj via flickr

What's in a name?

Kate Welsh
April 23, 2018

The French are notoriously proud of their meat and cheese. And you can’t blame them: Their stinky cheeses and coqs au vin are renowned the world over. But thanks to an amendment approved by French parliament on April 19, a line has been drawn, definitively separating “real” dairy and meat products from their vegan and vegetarian counterparts. It’s now illegal to use meat- and dairy-related language (i.e. “sausage” or “milk”) to describe food that doesn’t come from an animal.

The European Union’s meat lobby has been fighting for such a decision for around a year, after the European Court of Justice ruled that, per the BBC, “designations like milk and cheese could not be legally used for purely plant-based products.” Lobbyists, as well as some politicians, argue that using language that generally refers to animal-based products for plant-based products is confusing and could mislead consumers.  

Translation: "It is important to combat false claims. Our products must be designated correctly: the terms of #cheese or #steak will be reserved for products of animal origin."

Now that France has laid down the law—failure to comply with the new rule could lead to fines of up to €300,000 or $366,000—other countries may follow suit. But it’s worth asking if the decision only has consumers’ best interests at heart.

Veganism and vegetarianism are only growing in popularity, and, of course, offerings on the meat- and dairy-alternative shelves are, too. At this point, people can generally tell the difference between a veggie patty and a beef burger. So critics of laws such as this one have argued that taking the ability to call peanut milk “milk” and vegan sausage “sausage” is a defensive move by the dairy and meat industries. If these industries can stake definitive claim on the terminology important to their industry, perhaps they can hold on to their market share as well.

Regardless, vegan sausage by any other name still won’t taste all that much like sausage.

 

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