By Richard Parr MBE, The Good Food Institute Europe, 7th January 2021
From “veggie burgers” to “vegan sausage rolls”, Europeans have been enjoying plant-based meat and dairy for decades. But in October 2020, the European Parliament voted on a plan to ban the plant-based sector from naming their products with the everyday language people use to describe these foods.
Had it passed, the EU’s booming plant-based sector could have been forced to rename their burgers and sausages with bizarre terms like “meat-free discs” and “plant-based tubes”. The restrictions would also have impacted British companies – many of which have been leaders in Europe’s plant-based space for years – and could have seen familiar products renamed in the UK too, for the sake of consistency across the continent.
But following a funder-supported campaign from The Good Food Institute Europe (GFI Europe) in collaboration with other international non-profits, leading businesses and thousands of consumers, MEPs voted to reject this attack on plant-based meat.
GFI Europe is an international NGO helping to build a more sustainable, healthy and just food system by transforming meat production.
According to the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization, industrial animal agriculture is “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global … [including] problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution and loss of biodiversity”.
Research has found that moving towards plant-based meat would reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 30-90% – but studies consistently show that taste, price and convenience decide what most people eat. With agriculture responsible for 10.3% of the EU’s GHG emissions – nearly 70% of which come from the animal sector – GFI is working to make these more sustainable options the default choice across Europe.
It was thanks to the flexibility of our funders, and effective collaborations with a range of partners, that we were able to secure the defeat of the so-called “veggie burger ban”.
This year, our family of supporters enabled our policy team to grow from one to three. Together, they worked to educate MEPs about how these unnecessary restrictions threatened to cause confusion and undermine the EU’s support for more sustainable diets. And crucially, they formed coalitions with allies to amplify their impact.
In the weeks before the vote, we coordinated a joint letter to MEPs from 13 international environmental, animal welfare and consumer groups, demonstrating that the proposed restrictions would contradict the EU’s climate commitments. And as a founding partner of the European Alliance for Plant-based Foods, we joined 49 other NGOs and businesses in arguing that the plans breached the bloc’s principle of proportionality. Working closely with allies including ProVeg International, we raised the profile of the proposed ban in mainstream media outlets across Europe – prompting high profile politicians to wade in on the debate on social media.
In the end, the difference came down to just 48 out of 705 votes, and everyday language well understood by consumers – like “plant-based sausages” – was protected. However, with MEPs supporting further limits on the already restricted plant-based dairy sector, the team continues to work with allies to secure a level playing field for sustainable proteins.
Plant-based meat is just one solution to the many environmental problems caused by our existing food system – but its potential to slash emissions, cut pollution and protect biodiversity is huge. The willingness of our funders to support a collaborative approach enabled our small team to have an outsized influence in defeating the veggie burger ban.
The Good Food Institute’s international work with policymakers, scientists and companies across the supply chain is powered entirely through philanthropic support. If you are interested in learning more about giving to GFI, please do reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org – thank you!
Richard Parr MBE is Managing Director of The Good Food Institute Europe.