EUROPE – The European Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries (PECH) convened in Brussels, Belgium, to address the growing concern surrounding the labeling of plant-based imitation fishery products.

The debate centered on the clarity and regulation of labels for plant-based alternatives as their popularity continues to surge.

Under the existing EU law (Regulation 1169/2011), food information is mandated to be precise, clear, and easily understandable for consumers, with the objective of preventing any misleading information.

However, the influx of plant-based alternatives to meat and fish has ignited worries that the current legislation may inadvertently permit the mislabeling and marketing of products, potentially confusing consumers.

Yobana Bermúdez, President of the European Federation of National Organizations of Importers and Exporters of Fish (CEP) and Chair of the Market Advisory Council (MAC), presented findings from a 2023 NielsenIQ—Food Industry Association survey.

The survey highlighted consumers’ reported difficulty in comprehending labels on plant-based imitation foods, revealing an equal split between those finding it “somewhat difficult” and “not at all difficult.”

Concerns were raised about potential consumer deception due to the use of traditional food names on plant-based labels, with some likening it to a form of food fraud.

Claudia Benassi, representing the Italian Coldiretti Impresa Pesca Confederation, argued for EU-level regulation to safeguard animal-origin products from potential misleading associations with plant-based alternatives.

She emphasized the need for clear differentiation in marketing to prevent unfair comparisons between environmental impacts, nutritional values, and other qualitative aspects, and highlighted the issue of “reverse fraud,” where non-vegan products are falsely marketed as vegan due to existing labeling ambiguities.

In contrast, Rafael Pinto, a Policy Manager from the European Vegetarian Union (EVU), countered the arguments, asserting that consumers are not confused by labels on plant-based imitation foods.

Pinto advocated for the use of terms associated with animal products as long as the plant-based nature of the food is evident. He cited a 2020 study suggesting that restrictions on phrases traditionally associated with animal products may cause consumer confusion about the taste and uses of these products.

Pinto maintained that EU Regulation 1169/2011 is sufficient and fit-for-purpose for regulating the labeling of plant-based foods.

The Brussels hearing illuminated the complexity of the issue, with stakeholders from both the fishery and plant-based food sectors providing diverse perspectives on the regulation and labeling of plant-based imitation fishery products.

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