EU to Legally Define Vegan and Vegetarian Food

Each day we’re treated to photos and posts from friends and celebrities, like Liam Hemsworth, Josh Pfeiffer and Jared Leto, promoting vegan or vegetarian lifestyles. While the general public generally knows what constitutes as vegan and vegetarian, there is no legal definition for these foods. The EU is looking to change that.

The European Commission recently stated that it will start the process of establishing a legal definition for both vegan and vegetarian food in 2019. The commission confirmed the move in its Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme Scoreboard Summary.

In 2011, article 36 of the EUFIC made note that the commission must implement an act “related to suitability of a food for vegetarians and vegans.” Because the article gave no time-frame for the regulation, the commission has been delaying the implementation of the act.

The European Vegetarian Union, which has been pushing for an EU definition for nearly a decade, celebrated the commission’s announcement. The group says the commission’s commitment will make way for a much-needed vegetarian law.

Germany’s consumer protection ministers in 2016 backed a proposal that called for a legal definition of vegan and vegetarian foods.

Setting a legal definition for these foods ensures that consumers know the products they are purchasing are truly vegan or vegetarian. The proposed German definition would mean that fruit juices clarified with gelatin or bread made with cysteine-treated flour could not be labeled as vegetarian.

It is still uncertain when the food definitions would be enforced, but food manufacturers will likely be given time to make changes and ensure they remain compliant.

Standing Committee members will still need to vote on the adoption of the act after the commission finalizes the draft.

The fact that the commission won’t start any prep work on the act until 2019 suggests that this is not one its top priorities.

The commission has been dragging its feet on the issue, but there has been some progress in the labeling of vegan and vegetarian foods. In June, the European Court of Justice ruled that dairy-alternative products cannot be sold in the EU with names that include “milk,” “cheese,” or “butter.”

The case involved a Germany-based company called Tofu Town, which produces products called “Veggie Cheese” and “Soyatoo Tofu Butter.” The company argued that their plant-based “credentials” were clear and did not mislead consumers. The court disagreed.

The European Vegetarian Union criticized the ruling, stating that the verdict had “little to do with consumer protection.”