When is a steak not a steak? Well, according to the French, when it’s made out of plants, soy, coconut, jackfruit and especially not wheat gluten.

In other words, anything but meat.

It seems the steaks were high enough that the French government issued a decree on Monday banning the use of meat terms on plant-based meat products.

Among the 23 outlawed terms are ‘steak’, ‘ham’, ‘prime rib’, ‘filet’ and ‘escalope’.

The measure, signed by the French prime minister and the agriculture and finances ministers, means ‘vegan ham’ or ‘veggie sausages’ will no longer be on the menu from May.

Instead, ‘cultured nut products’ and ‘veggie tubes’ – in other words, vegan cheese and vegetarian sausages – will be.

Terms ‘referring to the names of species and groups of animal species, morphology or anatomy’ are also banned when marketing or promoting a product containing plant proteins, the measure says.

There are some exceptions. If the product contains a small amount of plant-based content that ‘does not replace foodstuff of animal origin’, the producer can use meaty names, such as cordon bleu.

Merguez sausages, for example, can contain up to 5% plant-based proteins.

In France, land-owning farmers wield a lot of political power, having protested against environmental regulations for months and, in 2015, sprayed manure on roads in protest against falling food prices.

Meat industry leaders have also long had ‘beef’ with mock meat companies for their ‘confusing’ meaty labels, too.

Now these companies will be fined 7,500 euros (£6,400) for doing so, and a penalty of 1,500 euros (£1,300) for individuals.

Alternative meat makers, the decree says, have a year to sell their remaining stock before facing any penalties.

Producers elsewhere in the European Union can continue to sell vegetarian food with animal names in France.

Juliet Gellatley, the founder and director of the British animal welfare charity Viva!, told, called the decree ‘ludicrous’.

‘Words like “steak” and “ham” may have been initially used to describe animal products, but that doesn’t mean they can’t take on new meanings as times change and language alters,’ she said.

Meat and dairy production are major sources of methane, a powerful planet-warming gas. Studies suggest that plant-based foods have a smaller greenhouse footprint than typical meat production.

For Gellatley, the decree risks tanking the profits of plant-based food companies and discouraging shoppers as climate change

‘I hope it doesn’t cause too much chaos to the French meat-free markets, and that consumers can still maintain a vegan diet: for the animals, for the planet and for their health,’ she added.

The decree follows a 2020 law that banned the use of animal names on plant-based products for the sake of ‘transparency’, the law stated.

The law was temporarily suspended two years later by the State Council after Protéines France, a consortium of meat-free producers, filed a complaint. 

An increasing number of French people are putting down their steak knives in favour of plant-based meat alternatives, with nine in 10 convinced it is less harmful to them and eight in 10 better for the environment, according to a survey by Protéines France.

Agricultural officials, however, said last year they were keen to get the meat labelling law back in the books.

‘To maintain the bond of trust with consumers, labelling and its intelligibility are essential,’ Marc Fesneau, the agriculture minister, said last September.

‘This is the objective of this decree and of all government policy in this area.’

Protéines France has argued restricting how manufacturers can sell and market plant-based foods puts France at odds with the EU.

Policymakers for the bloc shot down such a ban in 2020.

‘Reason prevailed, and climate sinners lost,’ Nikolaj Villumsen, a Dutch member of the European Parliament posted on X, then called Twitter, at the time.

‘It’s worth celebrating with a veggie burger.’

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2024-02-28T19:01:44Z dg43tfdfdgfd