No need to fight over a fishless finger


No need to fight over a fishless finger

30 January 2024
On 18 January, the European Parliament voted on a report regarding marketing standards in fisheries and aquaculture. The plenary approved wording that would limit the use of terms like ‘fish’ and the use of certain fish species, for example ‘tuna’, to describe plant-based alternatives to fish products.

The Parliament recommends in its report that the rights to use these denominations should be reserved for fishery or aquaculture products of animal origin only. The Parliament called on the European Commission to revise the existing legislation on labelling of plant-based products that imitate fish and aquaculture products. The reasons given by the Members of the European Parliament are to avoid misunderstandings, ensure accurate information to consumers and maintain equal opportunities in the EU market.

The Parliament’s decision assumes that consumers are easily misled by names like “veggie burger” or “fishless finger”. Surveys, however, indicate that an overwhelming majority of consumers (94.6%) consciously choose plant-based products and are not confused by meat-sounding names. Over 80% found it obvious that products  labelled ‘vegan’, ‘vegetarian’ or ‘plant-based’ do not contain animal-derived ingredients.

Furthermore, most consumers are not concerned about meat sounding names on vegan or vegetarian food if the products are clearly identifiable as vegetarian or vegan. The current EU food law establishes the consumers’ right to information about food products and is adequate for the purpose. Plant-based foods are labelled according to the EU’s legal framework, Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 relating to the provision of food information to consumers, which ensures food information to consumers. Hence, the legal framework in force assures a high level of consumer protection. 

Consumers actually face more significant challenges in accessing plant-based alternatives for meat and fish. The focus should be on removing barriers such as affordability and availability of the plant-based products in the supermarket. Another important factor is how easily the consumers can identify them and how easy it is to understand how new plant-based products can be used when cooking. Instead of making it more difficult for consumers to discover the plant-based alternatives, the Parliament should consider how it can help making the alternatives more accessible for consumers.

Lastly, many plant-based products are made from EU agricultural produce, benefitting EU farmers and companies. They could be  disadvantaged if they can no longer market their products in ways that make the products easily identifiable  by consumers, and easy for consumers to understand how they can be used. 

For all of these reasons, the European Commission should not be influenced by the misguided vote in Parliament. Instead, it should uphold the current regulations. The real concern is not fish-like names but how food environments can support consumers in accessing, identifying and choosing plant-based options.