The European Parliament finally resolved on Friday the dilemma of whether a hamburger is a hamburger. The answer is yes. The Eurochamber rejected an amendment which sought to prohibit the use of terms such as hamburger, escalope, steak or sausage for products that did not contain meat. The issue, debated in the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP),had created a brazen battle between vegetarian food producers and consumers and the meat industry.
Vegetable burgers should not finally look for another word. We won’t have to talk about records. It will also not be necessary to talk about strips to refer to sausages. “It is good news that the European Parliament used common sense and said no to the ban on veggie burger,”says Camille Perrin of the consumer organisation BEUC. However, the European Council will still be able to try to avoid it in its negotiations with the Eurochamber on the CAP.
Amendment No 165,which had already been adopted in the Committee on Agriculture, provided that certain names such as hamburger or steak should be reserved for “meat preparations”, i.e. fresh meat or subjected to processes that do not “alter their structure of muscle fibre”. However, most Members believe that a tofu burger cannot be deprived of that name. The amendment has been rejected by 379 votes against, 284 in favour and 27 abstentions.
The division that generated the debate attests to the outcome. Only the Greens have almost completely rejected the amendment, while the rest of the groups have been divided. In the case of Spaniards, almost all of the PSOE, VOX and some Members of Citizens have decided to support the text proposed by the European Commission. Instead, the Popular Party, Podemos, En Comú Podem, Bildu, ERC and Junts per Catalunya rejected it, that is, they supported the continuity of the word hamburger. In the same sense, the head of the European Social Democrats, Iratxe García, or the leader of the Spanish liberals, Luis Garicano, voted. The House also rejected other amendments by the popular and social democrats linked to the same debate.
The dispute had mobilized Europe’s main employers, associations and companies. While gaining the possibility of the Eurochamber condoning the veggie burger,the European livestock sector, in a nod to Magritte, used the image of that delicacy to launch the Ceci n’est pas un burger campaign. “Enough surreal names for meat and dairy!” read a statement from the patron saint Copa-Cogeca.
Environmental, vegetarian and vegan entities, among others, had argued otherwise. Large European corporations such as Ikea and Unilever were added to that thesis and argued that Amendment No 165 was “contrary to the growing consumer interest” alternative to animal products, whether for reasons of diet, health or the environment. In addition, they maintained that it could be a brake on competition by introducing barriers to entry into the food market.
This is not the first time the European institutions have faced this debate. In 2017, the EU Court of Justice already held that soy and tofu products presented as an alternative to soya and tofu could not be called “milk” or “butter”. In this regard, Members have supported extending this measure to almond drinking.