The European Commission says it will establish a legal definition of ‘vegan’ and ‘vegetarian’ food in Europe by the end of 2019.
The number of vegans and vegetarians is steadily increasing in Europe. While there are no EU-wide data on nutritional behaviour, many national show a growing trend. In Germany, for instance, number of vegetarians has more than doubled since 2006. Today, there are roughly 7.8 million vegetarians (around 10% of the population) and 900,000 vegans (1% of the population) according to an IfD, YouGov survey.
The market for vegetarian and vegan products is developing accordingly. However, despite the very real practice of both vegetarianism and veganism, there is no legal definition for the diets. This legal limbo is problematic to many regards. Mostly, there was uncertainty on what products food manufacturers could label vegetarian and vegan products. Also, the European Vegetarian Union – a non-profit, non-governmental umbrella organisation for vegetarian societies – has been pushing for a definition for years.
In 2011, article 36 of the European Food Information Council made note that the Commission (EC) must organise a regime “related to suitability of a food for vegetarians and vegans” but it was ever actually implemented, and until today, the foods eaten by vegetarians and vegans was merely determined by practice. The EU is looking to change that. After a Germany’s consumer protection minister suggestion, the EC recently stated that it will start the process of establishing a legal definition for both vegan and vegetarian food in 2019.
More surprisingly, this call was also made by FoodDrinkEurope (FDE), the association that represents the interests of European food and drink manufacturers. It has been asking for “a definition is essential in order to guarantee the freedom of choice of the consumers as well as the proper functioning of the single market for foodstuffs” some time, now. It repeatedly said it was willing to “to further support this process” that “will create some legal certainty.”
Early November, in the EC’s Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme Scoreboard Summary, published as part of the ongoing REFIT programme, Brussels has pledged to work on a legally binding definition. This will ensure that the consumer cannot be misled, and can compare products easily.
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