May 23. 2024. 7:18

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The French Council of State again suspends national ban on meat names for plant products

For the second time in a few years, the French top administrative court stopped a government decree banning the names of meat for plant-based products, such as ‘veggie sausage’ or ‘burger’, pending the decision of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

Following an appeal by six producers of plant-based foods, France’s State Council interim relief judge suspended the decree on Wednesday (10 April). The law provided a list of prohibited butchery or charcuterie terms, such as “steak”, “escalope” or “jambon”, to marketing plant-based products.

The French government promised to publish the decree on 27 February this year, as it was a commitment made to farmers’ protesting in the streets, to protect French livestock farmers and avoid creating confusion among consumers.

The decree was due to come into force on 1 May 2024.

But the Council of State said in its ruling that there were serious doubts about the legality of the ban, a press release explained. An opinion from the ECJ is expected in the coming months.

On 29 June 2022, the Council of State had already suspended another virtually identical decree.

Defending companies

The Council of State considered that “a ban from 1 May would seriously and immediately harm the interests of companies marketing these products.”

They would suffer “a significant drop in turnover” even though “most sales are of these products”.

The terms “veggie steak” or “veggie bacon” have “sometimes been used for a long time, have become established” and even appear on restaurant menus, the French court added in the press statement.

The decree could result in “costs associated with changes to packaging” and “marketing strategy”, the Council explained.

European law

The provisions on the topic of meat names rely on the European regulation of 25 October 2011 on food information to consumers and the regulation on the common organisation of the market (OCM) under the Common Agricultural Policy.

Under European law, meat-based products – unlike milk – are not regulated, and there is nothing to legally prevent the use of customary or descriptive names for meat products.

However, a recent ECJ ruling stated that the EU’s harmonised framework for food labelling “does not preclude Member States from adopting measures providing for additional mandatory particulars,” with the case law referring to the origin or provenance of foodstuffs.

Questioned by the Council of State, the ECJ is due to rule on the meat-banning decree in the coming months.

Unfair competition

Like France, Spain also wants to put an end to these designations.

Italy has also approved provisions banning meat designations for plant-based products, in the context of a law prohibiting the sales of lab-grown meat.

But Rome’s notification procedure to the EU was flawed and it is unclear what will happen next.

During the last CAP reform in 2020, MEPs tried to ban butchery terms for plant products, but the text was rejected by the European Parliament.

The absence of harmonised rules in the EU and the resulting unfair competition have also been denounced by companies marketing plant-based meat.

According to the Council of State, “their competitors, who manufacture their products in other European countries, will be able to continue to use these names to sell their products in France after 1 May.”

What’s more, the decree spares products “manufactured or marketed in another Member State of the European Union, or a third country.”

France approves decree to ban meat names for plant products amid legal uncertainty

In the midst of an agricultural crisis and farmers’ protests, France published a decree banning the use of meat names for plant-based products, while the EU’s top court is still due to issue a ruling clarifying the compatibility of such a move with the EU legal framework.

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