Poland could ban “meaty” words from labels of plant-based meat products, a draft decree has revealed.
In the draft decree, the Polish Ministry of Agriculture sets out plans to censor the use of terms like “ham,” “smoked meat,” and “sausage” for vegan products.
It appears the Ministry drafted the changes following pressure from Polish agricultural organizations. These bodies had argued for legal protections to prevent vegan meat products from misleading consumers.
“This is a very disappointing development,” Jasmijn de Boo, CEO of food awareness group ProVeg International told Plant Based News (PBN). “Studies have shown that consumers are simply not confused by the use of ‘meaty’ names for plant-based foods.”
What does the Polish draft decree say?
The draft decree appeared on the Government Legislation Centre website on Tuesday, 5 December. Respondents had 24 hours to voice concerns about the proposal.
If the decree were to become law, food labels for vegan meats might not be allowed to use terms like “plant-based ham” and “vegan sausage.” According to the Polish Ministry of Agriculture, this is to protect the integrity of labels used for meat products.
However, Anna Spurek, COO of Green REV Institute, a Polish environmental advocacy group, sees a different motivation. “This is not an argument about reliable consumer information,” she told PBN. “This is a fight for the place of the vegan industry on the shop shelves.”
She added: “On a packet of cheese made from cow’s milk, do we have information about antibiotics, the hormone PMSG, about subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy or about the conditions under which the animal lived and died? NO.”
She went on to call the announcement a “Santa gift” for the meat lobby (December 6 is St Nicholas Day in Poland).
Veganism on the rise in Poland
The new draft decree seems like a retaliation from Polish meat lobbyists to the rise of veganism in the country.
In recent years, veganism has gained popularity in Poland. A growing number of vegan restaurants have opened their doors from Warsaw to Wrocław. Many traditional Polish dishes, including pierogi, are easy to make vegan.
Poland has a strong agricultural identity. The country is a leading producer of rye, potatoes, and apples. Despite this, it is Poland’s pork industry that often gets the most attention from farming groups. Recently, Polish pig farmers have seen profits fall.
Attacking vegan products to try to save animal agriculture industries risks “harming the Polish market in light of consumer demand for products containing plant proteins,” said De Boo.
“What we would rather see is industry and Government work to actively promote climate-friendly food,” she added.
Health reasons should also push the government to promote plant-based meats, according to De Boo. “The average Pole consumes up to 80 kg of meat a year, which is more than the official recommendations made by Poland’s National Center for Nutrition Education,” she noted.
Plant-based labels under pressure across Europe
Vegan foods are facing growing government pushback around the continent. For example, the French government submitted a draft decree in September 2023 to ban 21 “meat names,” including “steak”, “escalope”, and “ham” on vegan products made and sold in France.
Earlier this year, 44 companies and organizations urged the UK government to rule out labeling restrictions for plant-based dairy alternatives. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) confirmed that Trading Standards officers were drafting an opinion document on the topic.
In contrast, a court in Switzerland ruled in January 2023 that “meaty” product labels used by a plant-based food manufacturer were not deceptive to consumers.
De Boo explained: “Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 already provides an effective framework to protect consumers against misleading, inaccurate, or unclear information communicated to them.”
While some countries like Poland are looking to hamper the growth of plant-based foods, the annual EU Agricultural Outlook up to 2035 predicts a steady shift towards more plant-rich diets.
Not official policy yet
It is not yet certain that the Polish draft decree will become law. Organizations, including REV, had the chance to voice their concerns during a 24-hour consultation process.
“REV has been fighting for years at EU level for the Common Agricultural Policy to be a Common Policy and not a Meat and Dairy Policy,” Spurek told PBN. “We are preparing a plan of attack because defensiveness is not our natural position.”
Things might not get easier, though. A new three-party coalition, led by Donald Tusk’s Civic Coalition (KO), is expected to be sworn in in the next few days. Ahead of the elections, Mr Tusk welcomed members of AGROunia, a popular farmers’ movement, into the KO. Michał Kołodziejczak, one of the movement’s founders, is likely to become the new Agriculture Minister.
One coalition partner, the Polish People’s Party (PSL), has led a campaign against higher taxes on meat and dairy. Its leader, Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz, said that if there are any attempts to raise duties on animal products, the PSL will “throw them in the bin straight away.”
In 2021, MEP Dr Sylwia Spurek sent five policy ideas to promote the plant-based sector to all the major Polish parties. These included a ban on advertising meat, milk, and eggs; “climate and animal rights” classes in schools, and 0 percent VAT on vegan substitutes. None of the parties has entered into dialogue on the issue, the REV said.