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EU takes hard line on dairy labels

EU lawmakers voted to reject proposals, backed by farmers, to ban plant-based products from using terms such as steak, sausage or burger.

"I'm going to celebrate with a vegan burger," Swedish EU lawmaker Jytte Guteland said after the result was announced.

Farmers had argued that the using words like burger or sausage for non-meat products could mislead consumers. European farmers association Copa Cogeca said allowing such terms would open a "Pandora's box" of confusing wording.

But medical groups, environmentalists and companies that make vegetarian products have said that banning these terms would discourage consumers from shifting to more plant-based diets, undermining the EU's environmental and health goals.

A majority of EU lawmakers also voted on Friday for stricter rules on labelling of dairy substitutes, backing a ban on terms such as "milk-like" or "cheese-style" for plant-based products that contain no dairy ingredients.

The European Court of Justice already banned terms like "soy milk" and "vegan cheese" three years ago, ruling that words such as milk, butter, cheese and yoghurt cannot be used for non-dairy products.

The labelling rules are part of a bigger EU farming policy package for 2021-2027, and are not final. Parliament must strike a compromise with EU member states on the final policy.

Elena Walden, policy manager at the non-profit Good Food Institute Europe, called on EU countries to "clear up this mess and reject confusing and unnecessary restrictions on plant-based dairy products."

Lawmakers approved their position on the farming policy package on Friday despite calls from Green lawmakers and campaigners, including Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, to reject the proposal. They say it does not do enough to curb the sector's emissions or protect nature from the effects of intensive factory farming.

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