Sci-Tech

The dispute over vegetarian substitutes: a vegetarian burger can remain – economical

The smell of meat and also tastes good. Beyond Burger is slightly smoky, even the grainy structure is deceptively modeled on ground beef. But instead of meat, the hamburger contains peas; no animal had to die of patties.

More and more consumers appreciate it. Veggie instead of meat, that’s a trend. Especially when soy, lentils or peas in vegan or vegetarian sausages, cutlets or chicken nuggets taste and look like meat with the help of flavors and ingredients.

Not only do Californians from Beyond Meat want to slice a piece of the growing pie, traditional food producers such as Nestlé and Iglo, as well as the poultry Wiesenhof, are also involved.

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Rügenwalder Mühle, which once grew up with sausage and meatballs, has even become the leader on the German market thanks to its vegan cuttings. In Germany, the entire vegetarian segment grew by 67 percent in one year.

The European Parliament is making an important decision

However, the success story of vegetarian burgers and cold cuts seemed to be in jeopardy. Because the European Parliament had to decide whether vegetarian alternatives could still be called burgers, steaks, etc.

Critics based on meat producers and the European Agricultural Association are demonizing meat substitutes as consumer fraud. Bernhard Krüsken, Secretary General of the German Farmers’ Union, talks about “horseback riding”.

“Marketing, which first discredits the original and then copies its name, is unfair,” Krüsken criticizes in light of the growing social criticism of meat consumption and intensive animal husbandry. On Friday, however, a ransom message came for vegetable producers: a vegetarian burger could remain, MEPs decided.

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The milk must come from a cow

Of course it wasn’t. Vegetarian meat products are legally in the gray zone, unlike vegan milk. The term “milk” has been protected by EU law since 1987 to protect milk producers from competition from margarine producers.

Imitations of milk made from oats or almonds therefore do not have to be sold as milk; instead, they are on the shelves as oatmeal, soy or almond drinks.

The milk must come from a cow. Almond or soy products do not have to be sold as milk. Photo: picture-alliance / dpa

So far, vegetarian burgers and sausages are only subject to the general EU food information regulation. While this prohibits misleading consumers, it leaves Member States a great deal of discretion.

There is a dispute in Germany

In Germany, there is a dispute between vegetable producers and the German Food Books Commission, which defines how food can be stored and labeled in that country. In December 2018, the Commission decided that it should be possible to refer to food of animal origin if vegetarian products are similar in terms of their intended use, consistency and mouthfeel.

Others do not want to accept what the Federal Ministry of Agriculture considers an acceptable compromise. “Vegan salami” should then only be called “vegan tofu sausage as salami”, criticized the vegetarian and vegan association “ProVeg”. A number of companies and associations have already intervened and asked the Commission to revise the guiding principle.

Whole sausage? This “Vurst” does not contain any meat. Photo: promo

A year ago, the Committee on Agriculture sided with meat producers

Now there was a threat that it would happen again on the European stage. In the spring of 2019, the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture decided that steaks, sausages and burgers must contain meat. The vegetarian burger would then become a “vegetarian slice” and the vegetarian sausage would become a “vegetarian wand.” That would certainly not encourage the sale of vegan patties.

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However, after the new deputies were elected last May, the wind turned. Even the European People’s Party has recently tried to find a compromise. They suggested that processed meat substitutes should continue to have meat names.

Vegetarian burgers or fried sausages should be allowed afterwards, unlike vegan steaks or fillets. “We want to ensure clarity for consumers here and at the same time not slow down the vegetarian market,” said Tagesspiegel, chairman of the Agriculture Committee Norbert Lins.

Parliament makes a fool of itself, the Greens warn

The Greens generally considered the debate to name the bans “nonsense.” “That would make Parliament look ridiculous,” warned Green’s agricultural expert at the European Parliament, Martin Häusling.

Labels containing meat should continue to be used, Häusling Tagesspiegel said, if they are clearly labeled with the words “vegetables”, “vegetarian”, “without meat” or something similar.

Proponents of consumers also see no risk of a vegetarian burger being fooled. “It’s clear and clear,” said Armin Valet of the Consumer Center in Hamburg.

Terms such as “hamburger”, “sausage” or “steak” are learned and often used, Nestlé emphasizes. “These terms usually refer to the appearance of a particular product, not the origin of the ingredients,” a company spokesman said.

Nestlé also makes it clear on the packaging that herbal meat or dairy alternatives are “100% vegetarian”, “vegan” and / or made from “vegetable proteins”. “We believe that this approach works and does not cause confusion among consumers,” said a spokeswoman for Tagesspiegel.

Alternative: Currywurst is also available as a vegetarian version. Photo: REUTERS

What’s behind the argument

The name dispute sounds absurd, but it has a solid, economic background. When Beyond Meat went public in May last year, the stock price was $ 25 and now stands at $ 184.

There’s a reason for this: According to a study by management consulting firm AT Kearney, new replacement products could account for 28 percent of the total meat market in 2030, and as much as 60 percent ten years later.

In Germany, the target group is not only about seven million vegans and vegetarians, but above all the growing number of flexitarists who continue to eat meat, but also like to use plant alternatives. 55 percent of German citizens said in a nutritional report from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture that they consciously avoid meat from time to time.

Does a vegetarian burger protect the environment?

Plants instead of meat should serve to protect animals and the climate. If you trust the Federal Environment Agency, the production of plant substitutes produces up to ten percent less greenhouse gases and lower water and soil consumption.

However, Beyond Meat’s environmental record has long suffered from the fact that Californians supplied their patties frozen from the United States to Europe. In the meantime, however, the Americans are working with a Dutch manufacturer and are also planning to build their own factory in Enschede.

Climate damage: Large parts of the rainforest are set on fire to keep cattle. Photo: AFP

How healthy is vegetarian meat?

A year ago, Hamburg’s consumer advocates looked in detail at vegetarian products. Are they healthier than red meat suspected of causing cancer? “Many products are interesting,” says food expert Valet.

However, consumers should definitely look at the list of ingredients. Flavors are used to create a meaty taste, while dyes provide a meaty appearance. In addition, many products contain salt and saturated fatty acids.

What will be next

A “vegetarian burger” sells better than a “pea pancake.” No wonder food producers are looking at the European Parliament. But no matter what comes out of the vote: A lot of time will pass before the new law is passed.

Because a vegetarian burger is part of the process of approving European agricultural reform. The Council of Ministers, the European Parliament and the European Commission must reach an agreement on many important points. It won’t be anything until next year.

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