When is “meat” not really meat? This may seem like a dumb question, or at the very least one that’s best relegated to the dorm rooms of freshman philosophy majors, but it turns out this matter of semantics is causing an uproar in France. The French National Assembly just ruled that any plant-based “meats” can no longer be labelled or marketed as such.

In other words, vegetarian or vegan products, regardless of their shape, can no longer be called burgers, steaks, sausages, or fillets. Even phrases like “bacon taste” can’t be used in product descriptions. The vocabulary ban also applies to non-dairy products like soy and nut milks.

Lawmakers claim these new regulations will help lessen consumer confusion and that clarity of language is a necessary for grocery shoppers to make the most informed purchasing decisions.

The measure was put forth by MP Jean-Baptiste Moreau, a farmer and member of President Macron’s En Marche! party. He recently posted a tweet which loosely translates to “It is important to fight against false claims: our products must be designated correctly: the terms #cheese or #steak will be reserved for products of animal origin!”

But others are skeptical. After all, how many people really mistake soy-based Boca patties for beefy burgers? How much impact does wording really have on our eating habits, especially in the case of vegetarian and vegan products, where larger ethical and environmental concerns come into play?

Some claim these new regulations are being prompted by concerns within the meat industry, which feels threatened by the rise in popularity of plant-based proteins. Given the rapid ascent of products like  Impossible Burgers and Beyond Meat, which mimic the taste and texture of red meat (so much so, they even “bleed” when you cut them), these fears are certainly valid. These items are now being sold everywhere from Whole Foods to White Castle to Yankee Stadium and are inarguably having a mainstream moment. As we’ve attested before, they are indeed just as good as the real thing.

In an interview with The Independent, Wendy Higgins, of Humane Society International, said: “It’s a shame that instead of embracing vegan and vegetarian food, France has adopted a position of defensive paranoia. But ultimately it won’t stop the rise of compassionate eating because the delicious, nutritious, Earth-friendly and ethical benefits will prevail regardless of what you call the products.”

You may be thinking this is a frivolous, French concern. But you’d be wrong. Similar labeling restrictions aren’t entirely out of the realm of possibility in the United States. In fact, just last year the DAIRY PRIDE Act was introduced.

The title is a absurdly long acronym that stands for “Defending Against Imitations and Replacements of Yogurt, Milk, and Cheese To Promote Regular Intake of Dairy Everyday Act.” It would basically prevent plant-based “dairy” products from being labeled as such, and its introduction followed a similar consumer education logic that the French government cited. The act is currently being held up in Congress, but if it did pass it would leave companies scrambling to find a new term for soy milk.

It will certainly be interesting to see if this new French law has an impact on the future of the DAIRY PRIDE Act, or if it gains traction elsewhere internationally. Only time will tell if we’ll have to come up with a new phrase for veggie burgers anytime soon. Compassion patties, anyone?

Header image courtesy of Impossible Burger.

Jessica is a former Associate Editor at Chowhound. Follow her on Twitter @volume_knob for updates on snacks and cats.
See more articles