The 'meat-free' industry is rapidly growing, yet there is rising back-lash from the farming unions about this turn of phrase. Tom Bromwich discusses the EU's recent vote on the language used to describe a 'veggie burger', and urges the government to do more to encourage farmers to join the plant-based industry. 

In a year characterised by uncertainty, stress, and meaningless terms such as 'the great indoors', many become sentimental and nostalgic, yearning for the days shaped by close-contact catch ups, late nights in pubs, and sun-blushed holidays. I indulged in this a few days ago when I came across a Leamington Spa Greggs' receipt purchasing a £1 vegan sausage roll from February 2019.

In turn, this had me re-experiencing Piers Morgan's tirade against what he referred to as "gastronomic appropriation". The receipt's date coincided with my vegetarian stint, frequently eating 'meat-free' sausages, soya steaks, and lentil burgers. What I did not realise, however, was the militant opposition to such labelling by farming unions and governments: France banned the phrasing of 'meat-free' foods with inherently 'meaty' terminology: Plant-based sausages, Bull-free burgers, etc.

The arguments being made against the alternatives to meat seem futile and patronising, suggesting that we as consumers lack the capacity to interpret information on our food, and cannot sustain ourselves with diets which have, in fact, proved resoundingly successful and economically sound. The EU's largest farming union, Copa-Cogeca, have referred to this as "cultural hijacking" allowing vegetarians to flood the market with misleading products. Call me blindingly sceptical, but I cannot see how Quorn sausages will, like Jihadis, Trojan Horse their way into Europe and bring about the end of Western 'culture'. This accusation of producer misinformation seems to score no new public support, given that just 25 per cent of British and European consumers consider 'meat-free' terminology misleading.

The EU has taken steps to alleviate concerns of vital agricultural workers by voting for bans on dairy products including vegan 'cheese', and 'dairy-free yoghurt'. The ECJ upheld this vote, and hence I am currently enjoying tea with one sugar and a 'soya drink' milk alternative. Dairy manufacturer, 'Flora', welcomed this sweeping reform by claiming that their "censorship" was over. If 'Flora' chooses to frame the labelling of milk as part of the culture wars, then be my guest. Regardless, the European Parliament, in October 2020, voted against similar bans on 'meat-free' products.

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EU meat terminologies are outlined in EC Regulation 853/2004 in which it determines meat as being from animals, but not seafood or fish. Therefore, a lack of legislation in regards to the new 'meat-free' revolution exists, and can explain the rift between the EU's farmers and its ever-expanding vegetarian and vegan population.

For both UK and EU, compositional food standards assert that a sausage is only deemed a 'pork sausage' if containing over 42 per cent of pork, (as per EU Food Hygiene Law 853, Annex VII, Part B). In this regard, surely just the word 'sausage' can be used to describe vegetarian sausages too: They contain no meat, so there is no need to label them further than just being a humble sausage. If 'sausage' is prefixed with 'vegan', as Piers Morgan holding a bin full of discarded Gregg's vegan sausage would decry, then how is this different to differentiating between sausages made with other meats? 'Sausage' seems an umbrella term, under which the surprising lack of UK and EU regulations has granted 'vegan' and 'vegetarian', a place.

The opposition to including of 'meat-free' phraseology does no benefit to its cause when it insults the public's intelligence suggesting we don't know what we are buying. Quorn has declared that "in 35 years, not one consumer has complained they bought one of our products by mistake thinking it contained meat". However, the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) has accused brands such as Quorn of "playing tricks" on the public and being deceptive regarding health implications of their products. The BMPA claims purchasing these products denies the consumer vitamins and minerals contained in meat: Iron, zinc, B12, etc.

Yet, component parts of 'meat-free' products (quinoa, soya, chickpeas) contain high levels of protein, essential vitamins and minerals, whilst also being low in sugar, calories, and the cholesterol found in beef, bacon and ham – commonly linked to heart disease and cancer. I would contend that if I saw 'meat-free' on some packaging, I would know what I was purchasing. Supermarkets are increasingly designating whole aisles for 'meat-free' products, and manufactures (fearful of overreaction from meat producers) are taking no risks with repeatedly emphasising the 'meat-free' nature of their products on their packaging. To suggest the public do not have the agency to determine the contents of a vegan sausage, is a patronising misstep which invites similarly ludicrous responses: Do Bernard Matthews' Turkey Dinosaurs contain real Pterodactyl? What part of the cow does a Beef Tomato come from?

Ultimately, meat producers need to adapt to a market which is rapidly growing. Allied Market Research estimates the 'meat-free' market to generate over £2.2bn annually by 2025. In the case of Greggs, they sold 1.5m vegan sausage rolls in one week in December 2019 alone! Governments should subsidise farmers who choose to grow legumes, soy, peas, and pulses. That isn't to say they should stop farming meat, but this offers them the chance to join a prosperous, meteoric market which can reward them with an increased revenue, and increased public support that they so rightly deserve.

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