Opinion: New EU Law on Plant-based Food Labelling Threatens to Prohibit the Use of Meat-related Words

D Jeanette Rowley wrote . . . . . . . . .

Recent news reports have highlighted that the European Union is set to bring in new legislation, covering the way vegan plant-based foods can be labelled. It is imperative that everyone is made fully aware of the extent of the new proposals because the new legislation will affect us all.

European Union law already limits how the plant-based, dairy alternative food manufacturing sector can label its products. The words ‘milk’, ‘cream’, ‘butter’, ‘cheese’ and ‘yoghurt’ can’t be used on labels because the dairy industry wants to protect its dominance, and make alternative plant-based products difficult to market and sell. The law that restricts the plant-based sector from using these words goes back some decades.

Due to the recent surge in demand for plant-based dairy and meat alternatives, both the meat and dairy industries are concerned that they are losing their dominant foothold in the food sector, and now propose amendments to existing EU legislation to make it even more difficult for manufactures of plant-based alternatives to market and sell their products.

The proposals are comprehensive and, if implemented, will affect not only plant-based food manufacturers, but also consumers, shop owners, cafés, restaurants and the entire range of public authorities, such as schools and hospitals, who need to serve vegan food to those in their care.

With regard to alternative milk products, in addition to not being able to use the words ‘milk’, ‘cream’, ‘cheese’ etc. to describe food products, manufactures will also be prohibited from using words such as ‘style’, ‘type’, ‘imitation’, ‘alternative to’, ‘to be used as’, ‘flavour’, ‘substitute’, ‘like’, or any other similar word that helps the manufacturer explain to the consumer what type of replacement product the food item in question is.

According to the lawmakers, labelling soya milk as ‘soya alternative to dairy milk’, or even ‘soya drink, to be used as milk’, is exploiting the reputation of dairy milk. Lawmakers also argue that the use of these terms confuse consumers, and even go so far as to claim that the vegan plant-based alternatives mislead consumers as to the nature or essential qualities of the product. In a desperate attempt to disrupt the plant-based manufacturing sector, lawmakers also aim to prohibit the use of common sense descriptions on any inner packaging, and any other useful advertising material that would help consumers understand what they are buying.

Because the dairy industry believes that the plant-based manufactures are misusing ‘dairy’ words, the proposals for new law go even further; manufacturers will no longer be able to use their current packaging or containers because the dairy industry believes the use of current packaging gives a false impression of the food inside. This means that vegan yoghurt cannot be called ‘yoghurt’, or ‘alternative to yoghurt’, and could not be packaged in the familiar yoghurt pot. In a further attempt to impact the plant-based sector, lawmakers propose an additional general cover all legal clause to render unlawful ‘any other practice liable to mislead the consumer as to the true nature of the product’.

Proposals for new law also deal with words such as ‘steak’, ‘burger’ and ‘sausage’. Again, due to the increase in demand for plant –based alternatives, lawmakers aim to prohibit any use of such terms to describe, promote or market food products made up of proteins of vegetable origin on the grounds that they are misleading. It would become unlawful to label products in familiar ways such as ‘veggie sausage’ and ‘veggie burger’. Instead the agricultural committee would like the plant-based sector to use terms such as ‘veggie disc’ and ‘veggie tube’.

Clearly, if implemented, these proposals will affect everyone, including all those who provide for vegans, for example school teachers and health care staff. It will generate confusion about what a product is, what it can be used for, how it might contribute to a meal, what kind of packaging it comes in, where in the supermarket it can be found and how it might be incorporated into a common sense menu.

All proposals for new EU law must be examined carefully to ensure that they do not cause disproportional hardship to stakeholders. In addition, the EU is currently implementing measures to reduce red tape, make law easy to understand and implement, and ensure that the needs of small businesses are taken into account. These proposals for new law do not take into account the needs of the plant-based manufacturing and consumer sectors, and are not aligned with the current move to make EU regulation better for small businesses.

These new proposals are relevant to UK citizens despite Brexit, as it is likely that the UK dairy and meat industry will lobby the UK government to try and obtain the ‘protections’ given to their European counterparts. In addition, following Brexit, UK visitors to European countries will undoubtedly be inconvenienced by the lack of clear labelling and visual clues, such as familiar containers in which they expect to find the food items they are searching for.

Through its international reach, The Vegan Society will do everything in its power to ensure that these new proposals do not become law, and following Brexit, we will continue to provide support to the global vegan community. To help us in our work, you can object to the new proposals by writing to your MEP asking that they give urgent attention to this matter.

Source: The Vegan Society

Food Label with Added Sugars Content Could Lower Heart Disease/Diabetes Risk

A label showing added sugars content on all packaged foods and sugary drinks could have substantial health and cost-saving benefits in the United States over the next 20 years, according to a new study published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation. Using a validated model, researchers were able to estimate a significant reduction in cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes cases from 2018 to 2037, if such a mandated addition to the Nutrition Label was implemented.

Poor diet, especially with overconsumption of sugar, is a known, preventable cause of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced an added sugars-labeling requirement on the Nutrition Facts label in 2016.

“The purpose of our study was to estimate the impact of the FDA’s added sugars label on reducing sugar intake and preventing diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” says Renata Micha, R.D., Ph.D., of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston. “Our results indicate that timely implementation of the added sugars label could reduce consumption of foods and beverages with added sugars, which could then lead to an improvement in health and a reduction in healthcare spending.”

The study was conducted as part of a National Institutes of Health-funded initiative, Food-PRICE, at Tufts University to identify nutrition strategies that can have the greatest impact on improving diet and health in the U.S.

The researchers predict that between 2018 and 2037, the added sugars label would prevent more than 354,000 cardiovascular disease cases and lead to almost 600,000 fewer cases of type 2 diabetes. The estimated reduction in net healthcare costs would be more than $31 billion, after policy costs have been factored in, and not including societal costs, such as lost productivity.

“We and others have shown that food labeling can be an effective strategy to support informed consumer choice and effectively change consumer behavior,” said Micha.

The study authors believe that the added sugars label would likely encourage food and beverage-makers to reformulate their products. As a result, they calculate the impact to be twice as great as having the added sugars label alone, at more than 700,000 fewer cases of cardiovascular disease and 1.2 million fewer diabetes cases, with net healthcare cost savings of more than $57 billion.

In explaining the potential effect that a mandated added sugars label would have on sugar content, Micha points to recent experience with food manufacturers who reduced or removed trans fats from their products following trans-fat labeling on products in the U.S. “That suggests that mandated labeling of added sugars content would stimulate the food industry to reduce sugar in their products,” she said.

“Clear, easy-to-understand nutrition labels help guide everyone on the path to healthy eating,” says Linda Van Horn, PHD, RDN., American Heart Association volunteer expert and Professor and Chief of Nutrition in the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, in Chicago. “Consumers are better empowered to make more informed food choices that will help reduce their risk for heart disease and stroke and live longer, healthier lives.”

Although there have been recent declines in sugar consumption, mainly from sugary drinks, Americans still consume more than 300 calories per day from added sugar. The largest single source is sugary drinks, followed by cookies, cakes and pastries, candies and ice cream.

“Our findings may be conservative and underestimate the full health and economic impacts. The model only evaluated health benefits and cost-savings from diabetes and cardiovascular disease outcomes,” said Micha, who added that impact on other health concerns could further contribute to health benefits and reduced costs.

The study was conducted as part of the Food-PRICE: Food Policy Review and Intervention Cost-Effectiveness research initiative (www.food-price.org), a National Institutes of Health-funded collaboration led by Tufts University researchers to identify nutrition strategies that can have the greatest impact on improving diet and health in the US.

Source: American Heart Association

‘Veggie Discs’ to Replace Veggie Burgers in EU Crackdown on Food Labels

Daniel Boffey wrote . . . . . . . . .

Veggie burgers are for the chop, a Brussels committee has decreed, to be replaced by the less palatable-sounding “veggie discs”.

And it won’t be just bean or mushroom burgers condemned to the food bin of history. Vegan sausages, tofu steaks and soya escalopes could all be approaching their ultimate best-before date, after a vote in the European parliament on revisions to a food-labelling regulation.

In a move that some MEPs suspect bears the fingerprints of the meat industry, the parliament’s agriculture committee this week approved a ban on producers of vegetarian food using nomenclature usually deployed to describe meat.

The protected designations would include steak, sausage, escalope, burger and hamburger, under a revised regulation that passed with 80% approval. The measures will now be voted on by the full parliament after May’s European elections, before being put to member states and the European commission.

The French socialist MEP Éric Andrieu, responsible for overseeing the legislation, said the prohibition was just “common sense” and he appealed to Europeans’ sense of foodie history.

“The meat lobby is not involved in this,” he said. “It has generated a considerable debate among the political groups and a large majority wanted to clarify things. Particularly in the light of history, the history we share, you can have a steak or burger, you can’t call it something else.”

The decision to protect meat-related terms and names “exclusively for edible parts of the animals” was firmly opposed by NGOs such as Greenpeace and Birdlife who insisted it presented a blow against sustainable food.

Veggie disc has emerged as one possible, yet possibly unpalatable, new name for plant-based burgers.

Andrieu said MEPs had voted purely in the best interests of the consumer and it should be seen as an opportunity for vegetarian brands to make their mark.

“We felt that steak should be kept for real steak with meat and come up with a new moniker for all these new products. There is a lot to be done in this front, a lot of creativity will be needed,” he said. “People need to know what they are eating. So people who want to eat less meat know what they are eating – people know what is on their plate.”

Molly Scott Cato, a Green MEP who sits on the agriculture committee, said she had taken some comfort from the development, although she had some doubts about the motivation behind the new labelling rules.

“The suspicion is that this has come from the meat industry out of panic at the fact that young people are moving away from eating meat,” she said. “It is a clear indication that they are worried about their market being undercut – and that’s quite a good sign. There certainly didn’t seem to be a lot of consumer demand for it.

“It wasn’t as if people were buying veggie burgers and asking: ‘Where’s my meat?’ People are moving increasingly towards a plant-based diet, and young people at a terrific speed.”

The MEP for South West of England and Gibraltar said she hoped the name prohibition could lead to food producers giving up on trying to emulate the meat-eating world.

“Rather than say ‘I can’t eat bacon so I am going to make something that tastes like bacon out of some weird micro food’, you can have a very nice cuisine that starts with vegetables and not a meat substitute. I think this could unlock a lot of creativity.”

It could take a number of years before the regulation comes into force, but Andrieu called on the EU’s institutions to “get on with it”.

In 2017 the European court of justice ruled that plant-based products such as soya and tofu should not be sold as milk or butter. It said dairy terms could only be used while marketing designated animal products, after complaints from German competition regulators about the German firm Tofutown’s tofu butter, veggie cheese and rice spray cream products.

“Purely plant-based products cannot, in principle, be marketed with designations such as milk, cream, butter, cheese or yoghurt,” the court said. Cocoa butter, coconut milk and salad cream were exempted under EU law but that “is not the case for soya or tofu”.

Concerns have been raised in the past about the health implications of babies being fed soya milk. The Food Standards Agency advises that while breast and cows’ milk are the best sources of nutrition, parents should continue to give their children the soya product if advised to do so by their doctor.

The EU is following the lead of France, where MPs last year passed an amendment to an agriculture bill prohibiting any product that is largely based on non-animal ingredients from being labelled like a traditional animal product.

Brussels has regularly been accused – particularly in parts of the British media – of unduly meddling in food regulations, with the best known example, albeit wholly inaccurate, being the prohibition on bendy bananas.

Should the Commons finally ratify Theresa May’s Brexit withdrawal agreement, the British government would probably have to put the regulation into force if there is an extended transition period. Even if the UK is outside the EU by the time the labelling rule is applied, it is likely Britain would follow Brussels’ lead.

Under article 17 of regulation (EU) no 1169/2011, names currently used for meat products and meat preparations will be reserved exclusively for products containing meat, MEPs have decided.

Out

Veggie burgers, quorn sausages, soya escalopes and seitan steaks.

In?

Veggie discs, quorn tubes, soya slices and seitan slabs.

Source: The Guardian

USDA Unveils Prototypes For GMO Food Labels

Merrit Kennedy wrote . . . . . . .

The USDA has released several options for what the labels might look like.

Foods that contains genetically modified ingredients will soon have a special label.

We recently got the first glimpse of what that label might look like, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its proposed guidelines.

This is the product of a decades-long fight between anti-GMO campaigners and Big Agriculture companies, which left neither side completely satisfied, as NPR has reported.

After Congress passed a bill in 2016 requiring labels on foods containing GMO ingredients, the USDA launched a long process to figure out the specifics. When it asked for feedback, it received 112,000 responses from consumers, farmers and manufacturers, among others.

The result?

There are a few options, and they look kind of like the labels you’d see on health food. They’re brightly colored, with greens and blues and yellows. They feature the letters B-E. Below that, some of them have a curved line.

“I mean, they look like a little smiley face,” says George Kimbrell, the legal director for the Center for Food Safety, which has pushed for labeling. “They’re very pro-biotech, cartoonishly so, and to that extent are, you know, not just imparting information but instead are essentially propaganda for the industry.”

Other options include a smiling sun, or a circle with growing plants.

The letters B-E stand for bioengineered — a term critics say is unfamiliar to the U.S. consumer, compared to more commonly used phrases like genetically engineered or GMO.

Grocery store shelves already have a lot of products with the label non-GMO, many of which include an image of a butterfly on a blade of grass.

“It’s misleading and confusing to consumers to now switch that up and use a totally different term, bioengineered, that has not been the standard commonplace nomenclature for all of this time,” says Kimbrell. He says he’d prefer these foods to be labeled with a circle saying “G” or “GMO.”

The USDA said it was not able to speak about the labels until they are finalized.

And industry representatives such as Nathan Fields, the director of biotechnology and crop inputs at the National Corn Growers Association, say the new term provides a clean slate.

“There’s some connotations around some of the terms that have been used that do cast the technology in a negative light,” says Fields. More than 90 percent of the corn grown in the U.S. is genetically engineered, though Fields says he does not expect the labels to negatively impact the industry.

The National Corn Growers Association was supportive when Congress passed the mandatory disclosure standards, in part because states such as Vermont were creating their own rules about labeling genetically engineered foods. Fields says they were concerned about a state-by-state patchwork of laws, preferring a single national standard.

Farmers have also grown more comfortable over time with the idea of labels, says John Heisdorffer, a soybean producer and the director of the American Soybean Association, which has in the past come out against the idea. Soy, like corn, is also more than 90 percent genetically engineered. “The product has been around for a long time,” Heisdorffer says. “You don’t hear of any folks getting sick, or beyond that, through biotech.”

Although long term risks are hard to pin down, scientists have not found hard evidence that GMO crops are any less healthy for humans to consume than other crops. That’s what the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concluded in 2016 after reviewing more than 900 research papers on the topic.

Nevertheless, the public wants these labels. Polls show that a majority of Americans want to know whether their food is genetically engineered.

People make choices about what they eat for many reasons. “The whole idea that people make decisions about what to put in their mouths simply on the basis of safety is, of course, ludicrous,” says Glenn Stone, a Washington University in St. Louis anthropology professor who focuses on genetically modified crops.

This fight, he says, is about “clashing visions of agriculture,” where people concerned about the practices of powerful corporations such as Monsanto should be able to easily choose not to purchase those products.

That’s a crucial point in the broader question about which products are going to be labeled. Genetically modified ingredients, says Kimbrell, are the “tip of the spear as to the future of our food and the debate as a society that we’re having about it, and how we produce it.”

He and other labeling advocates want mandatory disclosures on products that contain highly refined ingredients made with genetically engineered crops. For example, foods with canola oil or corn starch, where modified genetic material could not ultimately be detected. The USDA is still deciding.

But Kimbrell says that this would allow a huge number of products that use GMO-derived ingredients to not have a label. He says it doesn’t matter what’s detectable in the final product. It’s how it was made to begin with.

Fields, from the National Corn Growers Association, has a different view. He thinks labeling highly refined products as GMO “isn’t necessarily completely honest, because there’s nothing to trace back to bioengineering that occurred with that specific product.”

It’s also not certain that the USDA will require the label to actually say “bioengineered.” The proposal say that companies could simply use a QR code, a kind of barcode that a phone can scan, to disclose info about the product. Industry professionals say they are clear and easy to use.

But critics say scanning a code would be one more obstacle for people who want to know how their food is made.

“People who aren’t in a place where there’s good wi-fi won’t know if it’s a GMO, and people who don’t use smartphones won’t know if it’s a GMO and also people who are in a hurry won’t know if it’s a GMO,” says Stone.

The public has until July 3 to submit comments on the USDA’s proposal.

Source: npr

How Foods Labeled ‘Healthy’ Can Still Make You Fat

Dennis Thompson wrote . . . . . .

Be careful when you reach for foods labeled “healthy” — new research suggests if they have hidden high levels of sugar, you may snack more later.

Prior studies have shown that sugary foods can make a person feel hungrier later in the day, said lead researcher Naomi Mandel, a professor of marketing at Arizona State University.

But these latest findings reveal that people can exercise some self-control over sugar-driven hunger, if they are given fair warning through product packaging, Mandel said.

“When people think something is healthy, they don’t psychologically process it that much and so the physiological factors take over,” Mandel said. “But when they think something is unhealthy, they’re able to override their physical impulses.”

For the study, Mandel and her colleagues created two types of “protein” shakes that tasted the same and contained the same amount of protein and total calories. One shake contained high sugar and low fat, while the other had low sugar and high fat.

The first phase of the experiment involved 76 college students who were randomly given either a high-sugar or low-sugar shake to drink, and then provided potato chips to snack on while watching a video, the study authors said.

The researchers chose potato chips because they wanted to see if the sugar effect “would transfer over to a different kind of snack,” Mandel said.

As expected, the students who had the high-sugar shake ate more potato chips.

In the second phase, researchers explored whether changing participants’ perception of the shakes’ healthiness would influence their snacking habits.

The sugar and non-sugar shakes were randomly passed out to another group of 193 students, but this time they included labeling.

Some shakes were labeled “healthy living” and carried nutrition information claiming they were low in fat, sugar and calories. Others labeled “indulgent” carried info showing they were high in fat, sugar and calories.

People who drank a high-sugar shake labeled “indulgent” ate the least amount of potato chips, even fewer chips than people who drank low-sugar shakes marked as either “healthy” or “indulgent.”

Those who drank a high-sugar shake labeled “healthy” ate more potato chips than any of the other three groups, the findings showed.

Mandel said she’s particularly concerned about the impact from breakfast foods like cereal, yogurt or instant oatmeal, which are marketed as healthy but often contain loads of sugar.

“People think they’re starting out having a healthy breakfast, but they may be setting themselves up to be hungry all day and eat too much over the course of a day because of that,” Mandel said.

Dr. Reshmi Srinathe is an assistant professor of medicine, diabetes, endocrinology and bone disease with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. She said the study shows the importance of food labels and the need for stricter regulation of claims made by product manufacturers.

“Labeling matters,” Srinath said. “When people think something is healthy, they think it gives them a pass to make other food choices that may not be as healthy.”

Srinath and Mandel recommend that people read the Nutrition Facts label and ingredient list included on food packaging, and figure out for themselves whether a product is healthy or not.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is in the process of expanding the Nutrition Facts label to show the amount of added sugar in food, Mandel said.

“I think that’s a good first step,” Mandel said. “Ideally, I would like to see more regulation of a marketing term claiming that a food is healthy or healthful. If it has a lot of added sugar, then it really should not be called healthy.”

The study was published in the journal Appetite.

Source: HealthDay


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