OPINION: Vegan Labeling Wars Show The Plant-Based Sector Is Booming

In recent years, meat and dairy organizations have become increasingly vocal about the use of traditional names to describe vegan alternatives. But why?
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Are consumers really confused about plant-based products? (Photo: Adobe. Do not use without permission)

Are consumers really confused about plant-based products? (Photo: Adobe. Do not use without permission)

At the beginning of 2019, two sisters opened an artisan vegan cheese shop in central London, under the clever name La Fauxmagerie.

The large sign in front of the shop (which opened in Brixton market, and later moved to much larger premises off Brick Lane) describes La Fauxmagerie as a 'plant-based cheesemonger'.

The independent business had been open for mere days before the complaints started, with national dairy giant Dairy UK releasing an official statement threatening the small shop.

'Consumers are being misled'

"Dairy UK has a duty to ensure the nutritional and health benefits of real dairy are recognized by and communicated to consumers," the statement said.

"It concerns us that consumers are being misled with the use of dairy terms like cheese by the plant-based sector. It is fundamental to protect the consumer from product descriptions which are misleading. In the first instance, we will be contacting La Fauxmagerie to make them aware of the current EU ruling on the protection of dairy terms.

"Like milk, cheese has a host of nutritional benefits and is a source of a number of important nutrients including calcium, protein, vitamin A, phosphorus, and vitamin B12."

Label wars

La Fauxmagerie is not the only independent vegan business to come under fire for how it labels its products. Earlier this month, entrepreneur Miyoko Schinner - founder of US-based brand Miyoko's, which produces plant-based butter and cheese - revealed her own experiences.

Schinner received a letter from the State of California, which said that she must no longer use the term 'butter' to describe her product. In addition, it said 'images of animal agriculture from the website must be removed such as the picture of the woman hugging a cow [the cow is a rescue living at an animal sanctuary]'.

The letter continued: "The product makes the claims 'Lactose-free', 'Hormone-free', and 'Cruelty-free'. Because it is not a dairy product, it cannot assert these claims."

Plant-based meat

Dairy is not the only product under the labeling microscope. Both in Europe and the US, producers of meat products have complained - and in some cases undertaken legal action - over labeling practices.

Makers of plant-based meat and clean meat have faced accusations that they are confusing or misleading consumers by calling their products meat - despite either not being of animal origin, or being the product of animal slaughter.

The meat and dairy lobbies want to stop plant-based producers from using certain words to describe their products (Photo: Adobe. Do not use without permission)

The meat and dairy lobbies want to stop plant-based producers from using certain words to describe their products (Photo: Adobe. Do not use without permission)

'Censorship'

The meat lobby says it wants to protect consumers from being misled - but the Good Food Institute (GFI) says this 'label censorship' is harmful to consumers.

"Confronted with the success of plant-based meats and milks and the looming competitive threat of cell-based meat, the conventional meat and dairy industries have turned to the government to help protect their market share," the GFI states.

"Seeking to protect their favored industries, legislators in states across the country have introduced bills to censor the use of meat and dairy terms on the labels of plant-based foods and cell-based meat products. But consumers, not the government, should decide which products succeed in the marketplace."

Confused?

When it comes to these consumers - and claims they are confused - the available information shows that shoppers do, on the whole, understand the difference between plant-based and dairy products.

According to 2018 research by the International Food Information Council (IFFC), fewer than 10 percent of US consumers believe that plant-based milks contain any dairy products.

The study shows that a further 75 percent know the vegan products do not contain cow's milk, and the remaining respondents are not sure. The IFCC says these results show 'a low level of consumer confusion over nomenclature and basic differences between the two'.

'A food revolution'

While many on the plant-based side of the argument are angered by producers trying to stifle the use of food-based labels, for Schinner, the letter signified a positive move forward: "FINALLY! The State recognizes that animal agriculture is CRUEL! I don't think they even realized what they implicated," she wrote on social media.

"We are in the midst of a food revolution (another thing they said we can't say - 'revolutionizing dairy with plants') and I already know the outcome, along with the millions of forward-thinking vegans in the world."

This article is sponsored by Vegannection, a virtual vegan pre-paid card which can only be used in 100 percent vegan establishments. It gives users two percent back every time they use it to make a payment, and makes donations to vegan causes.

Vegannection aims to boost the plant-based economy by giving users perks in return for supporting plant-based businesses.

You can find out more about Vegannection here

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