France Bans Plant-Based 'Meat' from Being Marketed as Steak, Bacon, or Sausage

Under the country's new labeling laws, meatless "burgers" are still allowed.

It may be a job for plant-based food manufacturers, or it might be added to the to-do lists of French etymologists, but somebody is going to have to come up with a new name for plant-based steaks and sausages. Last week, France became the first European country to ban words that have been used to describe meats or fish — like "steak" — from being used for their meatless counterparts.

"It will not be possible to use sector-specific terminology traditionally associated with meat and fish to designate products that do not belong to the animal world and which, in essence, are not comparable," the country's official decree said.

The ruling has been celebrated as a win by those in the French meat industry. "I welcome the adoption of this decree, which constitutes an essential step in favor of the transparency of information to the consumer as well as the preservation of our products and know-how,"​ Jean-François Guihard, the president of the National Interprofessional Association for Livestock and Meat (INTERBEV) said. "The protection of meat denominations and their regulatory framework is a very important subject on which our [association] has been mobilizing for several years."

The new ruling is only applicable to plant-based products that are manufactured in France. DW clarifies that plant-based dairy products are already subject to similar restrictions throughout Europe, and the words "butter," "cheese," or "milk" cannot be used on the labels of plant-based products.

Unsurprisingly, those in the plant-based space are less delighted by the government's decision. "You won't see anything more delusional today," Nicolas Schweitzer, the CEO of plant-based "facon" company La Vie, wrote on LinkedIn. "After pushing for the reindustrialization of France, the government has just passed a decree pushing us to relocate [...] We produce 100% in France and we will therefore be among the only ones penalized on the shelves."

And the National Plant Food Observatory (ONAV), which promotes a plant-based diet, was equally disappointed in Government Decree No. 2022-947. "This decree is part of a logic of extended protection of the economic interests of the meat sector," the organization wrote on its website.

Cauliflower steak with herbs and sauce
Olga Miltsova / Getty Images

"While climate experts, health professionals and consumer associations are now calling for better regulation of the marketing and promotion of less sustainable foods and the promotion of healthier options, it risks hindering and delaying the development of the plant sector in France as well as the transition to healthier and more sustainable foods with a stronger plant component." (ONAV also argues that consumers already use terms like "steaks, sausages, and nuggets" to describe plant-based foods and that they aren't bothered by them — and in addition, those names serve to give hints about the products' taste, texture, and preparation methods.)

France's decision came just days after South Africa's government passed a similar ban on meatless manufacturers using names and terminology "prescribed and reserved for processed meat products." The South African Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) has also ordered its Food Safety Agency (FSA) to seize any plant-based products on store shelves that use now-banned "meaty" terms to describe themselves. (And in South Africa, even plant based eggs aren't exempt: Just Food reports that the FSA has warned Woolworths to stop selling egg-and-dairy-free egg substitute Just Egg.)

France's ban on its no-no words will go into effect in October. One word that escaped the decree was "burger," which can still be used to describe plant-based or meat-free patties. That's one less thing the etymologists will have to figure out.

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