Earlier this month, the EU Parliament's agriculture committee approved a ban on naming meat-free foods after their traditional counterparts. If the proposals are voted into effect by the full EU Parliament in May, vegan and veggie burgers could become 'discs', and sausages 'tubes' among other products.
Some politicians believe the meat industry is behind the proposed crackdown, though supporters insist they want to avoid consumers being misled.
"The meat lobby is not involved in this," said French socialist MEP Éric Andrieu, who was responsible for overseeing the legislation."It has generated a considerable debate among the political groups and a large majority wanted to clarify things. Particularly in the light of history, the history we share, you can have a steak or burger, you can't call it something else.
"We felt that steak should be kept for real steak with meat and come up with a new moniker for all these new products. There is a lot to be done in this front, a lot of creativity will be needed.
"People need to know what they are eating. So people who want to eat less meat know what they are eating – people know what is on their plate."
Now The Vegan Society has legally challenged the proposals in a formal letter to EU officials, signed by its CEO and prepared by a legal expert, on the grounds of breaching fundamental human rights of vegans that are set out by the Union. The EU has 21 days to respond to the letter, after which the matter will be escalated by The Vegan Society.
According to the Society, if put into place, the new measures would not only impact vegans, but also public authorities that currently serve vegan food, such as government departments, health providers, education establishments, police forces, and prisons.
The letter states the proposed measures contravene the EU consumers' right to be informed adequately as to how goods can be used and denies the vegan community the benefits offered by EU law on clear labeling.
"As consumers are increasingly moving away from eating animals, the demand for vegan products is growing," George Gill, CEO at The Vegan Society who signed the letter, said.
"There's no denying that meat, dairy, and egg industries are feeling threatened by this and desperately trying to restrict the marketing of vegan products.
"These proposals have little to do with consumer protection and instead are motivated by economic concerns of the meat industry. We are calling on EU officials to reject these irrational measures for vegan meat alternatives to be banned from using the qualified conventional terms everyone has been using for decades."
"This proposed measure is not aligned with EU policy on respect for diversity," Dr. Jeanette Rowley, Vegan Rights Advocate at The Vegan Society, added. Public authorities are obliged to provide plant-based food to vegans in their care as veganism is a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010.
"It is not in the public interest and, if implemented, would have a disproportional impact across society by affecting the normal daily functioning of all public and private entities that provide food.
"This EU measure threatens to cause widespread administrative chaos, confusion and time wasting trying to understand how to plan a meal that includes a veggie disc or a veggie tube. The widespread impact of this unreasonable and costly proposal should not be underestimated."
According to Dr. Rowley, European food labeling laws that state 'food information should … enable consumers to identify and make appropriate use of food' and argues the use of 'meaty' names informs the consumer how the plant-based products can be cooked and used.
She adds that alternative vocabulary put forward such as 'vegetable disc' does not constitute clear food labeling under EU consumer law because such terms do not describe or facilitate ease of interpretation, nor make it easy to perceive the food item in question.