It’s meat Jim, but not as we know it – we take a closer look at alternative product labelling

It doesn’t sound like a very complex issue: that of plant-based ‘burgers’, ‘steaks’ and ‘sausages’ or nut ‘milks’ being able to use the nomenclature traditionally enjoyed by ‘real’ meat and dairy. Afterall, how much confusion can there possibly be in clearly-labelled veggie ‘burgers’ or oat ‘milk’?

Back in 2017 the EU banned dairy names for non-dairy products, save a few exceptions, but all laws aside, surely using traditional names for new incarnations of products is more about having a shorthand for how, and with what, we serve them, rather than the molecular structure?

In the case of meat-free, so far the UK government agrees.

In October, Zac Goldsmith, minister for the environment, food and rural affairs, told EU officials that he didn’t believe a ban on ‘meat’ terms for veggie and vegan products was necessary. 

In a letter to Lord Teverson, chair of the European Union Energy and Environment Sub-Committee, he said: “…consumers are protected from misleading information both on food labels and on advertising for food products by the Regulation on the Provision of Food Information to Consumers (EU 1169/2011). Vegetarian sausages and burgers have been on the UK and European market for many years now and where they are clearly and honestly labelled, as the large majority are, consumers are not at all misled.”

However, he did stress that food producers “must design labels that do not mislead as to the characteristics of the food, including its nature, composition or method of manufacture or production”.

Certainly, these labelling rules have served us well so far. If food uses an ingredient that’s different from what consumers might expect, it must be made clear by either including the ingredient as part of the product’s name, or stated close to the name on the label. For example, if pesto sauce is made with parsley instead of traditional basil, it must either be called ‘parsley pesto sauce’ or ‘parsley’ must be stated next to, or directly under the product name.

There are even rules governing how this must be designed. So ‘parsley’ would need to be at least 75% of the height of the food name with an x-height (the size of the lower-case x) of at least 1.2mm. 

So far, so simple…or so we thought. We recently read several articles about 3D printed, no-slaughter ‘meat’ and came across the term ‘alt-meat’…and it all started to get a little…muddy. 

Take a look at this website www.redefinemeat.com It talks of ‘alt-meat’ made using technology, which “combines proprietary 3D meat modelling, food formulations and food printing technology to deliver a new category of complex-matrix ‘meat’”. Redefine Meat also says it wants to “appeal to the world’s hundreds of millions of ‘flexitarians’ or ‘conscious carnivores’  – no mention of vegans or vegetarians. Is it producing meat or ‘meat’ – we can’t tell.

And yet a quick web search throws up two news stories that clearly state Redefine Meat aims to put 3D-printed, plant-based meat on the market by early next year. Why not clearly state on its website that its ‘meat’ will be plant-based? 

On the other hand, there are ‘meat’ producers promoting ‘no-slaughter’ meat such as Aleph Farms, which is very upfront about how it uses cultured animal cells to grow meat in a lab.

So, where does this leave brand identity, authenticity and provenance in this new world of meat and ‘meat’.

The UK government might be happy with the labelling laws (for now) but we reckon this issue will be hotly-debated in the coming months. Not least because the powerful American beef lobby has already pressurised Washington to introduce a Real Meat Act, which will seek to “establish a federal definition of beef”.

And we feel it has a point. Discerning that oat ‘milk’ doesn’t come from cows (or goats) and a veggie sausage isn’t of animal origin, are pretty simple. Cultured (no-slaughter)meat and realistic veggie ‘meat’ are a different ball-game and consumers need to understand – at a glance – exactly what they are buying.

What do you guys think, are the lines of clarity for consumers now being blurred? Get in touch and let us know.