A petition launched to stop amendment 171
The European Union is once again being challenged by the world of vegetarian and vegetarian food. ProVeg International, Oatly and Upfield are launching a petition to stop amendment 171 aimed at restricting vegetarian alternatives. So, let's take a look at what it's all about before I share a few thoughts with you.
What is it all about?
Plant and vegetarian food stakeholders are concerned about this European regulation because they find it too restrictive. They also consider it goes against the efforts made in terms of sustainable development.
The joint statement by ProVeg International, Oatly and Upfield, which considers the regulation too restrictive, illustrates this with a few examples:
- Amendment 171 Prohibits the description of a plant-based food by referring to the familiar terminology of dairy products. In short, the use of terms such as creamy for example would be prohibited to describe plant products.
- It prevents the climate impact of a dairy product from being shown by comparing its carbon footprint with that of a plant equivalent.
- It also prohibits the use of a picture of a white vegetal drink poured at the breakfast table or a white foam swirling in a cappuccino.
- A more restrictive interpretation of the amendment could mean banning many packaging of vegetal alternatives if they are too similar in shape to the packaging of dairy products (bricks, small glass dessert jars, etc.).
“This is censorship”
The reactions of the protagonists behind the petition are quite virulent, some even going so far as to speak of "censorship of the plant industry". For players involved, the amendment goes too far because the restrictions are broadened and even allows the prohibition of any use or even "evocations" of dairy products on packaging as well as in advertising. The plant industry fears a ban on the use of certain images, as well as a ban of factual disclaimers such as "this product does not contain milk" or "suitable for people with allergies/lactose intolerance".
Cecilia McAleavey, Director of Public Affairs and Sustainable Food at Oatly, said: "This amendment directly contradicts the EU's work to encourage more sustainable food production. It makes it more difficult to give consumers the basic information they need to switch to plant-based alternatives.
Given the climate crisis, it is irresponsible to try to prevent us from encouraging people to eat more plant-based food and help protect the planet. Consumers are not stupid - everyone knows that this is an attempt by the dairy lobby to halt the ongoing transition to a more plant-based, sustainable diet.»
Jasmijn de Boo, Vice President of ProVeg International commented as well: "It is disconcerting to be forced to justify sustainability again. Why sabotage innovation? Who will benefit? Green energy is no longer stifled or opposed, so why are we still suppressing and censoring sustainable food production, given the urgency of the situation? Who stands to lose here? We need to adapt at all levels of our food chain if we are to tackle the climate crisis. Truly sustainable food production must be activated... How will we achieve our climate goals if we allow powerful but unsustainable industries to determine our collective destiny?".
Finally, for Upfield, Dr Jeanette Fielding, Director of Public Affairs and Communications explained: "Food policy must be developed in the interests of consumers, the environment and health. This amendment goes against all three.
Making it illegal to name, package and represent plant-based alternatives as we have done for over 100 years is a serious step backwards. Consumers today are looking for strong European leadership on climate and environmental issues. This means removing bureaucratic constraints to access sustainable and healthy food, not strengthening them. »
My 20/CENT Where is the nuance?
Consuming sustainably and being informed about the origin of the products we buy are obvious things to me. And it is clear that current events and several scientific studies show the interest of adopting sustainable and conscious habits. The planet needs it.
Nevertheless, having carefully read the joint press release of these plant players, as well as various documents on the subject, I have a few thoughts in mind. And at the risk of attracting the wrath of certain opiniated followers, allow me to share them with you.
First of all, I partly agree with the initiators of the petition. This new European regulation is too restrictive. Prohibiting certain terms to describe a product is exaggerated. The terms in question are not only used for dairy products, but can be used in other contexts. Take the term "creamy" or “smooth” for example. An ointment can be “smooth”. There are bakers who make “smoothy and creamy” cakes without dairy ingredients. And for those more literary people who write passionate letters or texts to the love interest, the words “unctuous”,” silky”, or “smooth” can be useful. To put it plainly, to restrict certain terms as the regulation currently proposes, is just simply unnecessary and stupid.
The same goes for restrictions on packaging. Packaging such as bricks, for example, are not only designed for dairy products. Fruit juices or other drinks can use them, in my opinion. Here again, this new regulation goes too far.
On the other hand, there are elements that disturb me enormously in the current approach of the plant industry. First of all, regulation is necessary. Secondly, the tone used by the plant-players is too easily over-Manichaean.
I'll take as a simple example the press release concerning this petition or some videos that are circulating on the web. The comments used are too easy and too opposed to traditional industries. According to those statements, the dairy and meat industries are simply diabolical, and only the plant-based industry behaves ethically and is a solution for the planet. Seriously?
There is an obvious clear will to impose one's beliefs. However, consumers must be properly and unambiguously informed. Putting on a product what the ingredients are, what the allergens are, that it is lactose-free, ...I totally agree. But there are limits to be placed somewhere. Putting logos all over the place that your product is "suitable for allergy sufferers", that it is guaranteed "free from" and all this combined with simplistic communications can lead to abuses. Wine is lactose-free, gluten-free, yet winemakers won't put it on the label to attract confused consumers. Another example, a very dramatic communication shouting loudly that only your alternative product has the quality of being lactose-free, meat-free, ethical, etc...could imply that products such as naturally prepared meat or artisanal cheese would in fact be harmful to the consumer and the planet. However, there are producers who work sustainably in the animal industry. Also, eating meat or cheese is not going to be harmful to health. On the contrary, several studies even demonstrate the need for a balanced diet and the benefits of animal proteins.
In short, there is a need for Europe to regulate because we need to protect those who work in a sustainable and conscious way for the planet, and we also need to protect the consumer, who must not get lost in the middle of a conflict between the animal and vegetable industries.
In conclusion, it is clear that the planned regulation in its current form is not appropriate. But, the animal vs. plantconflict must be regulated. Ideally, rather than adopting dramatic speeches fueled by commercial interests, actors from both worlds should adopt a more educational and scientific attitude in their communication with consumers.
Because honestly, if you want to continue the cacophony and confuse the consumer, keep it that way.