Should words like "sausage" and "burger" only be used to describe foods that contain meat?
According to an EU proposal presented in April, the answer is "yes" – although experts at a hearing of the House of Lords in London on Wednesday to raise objections to the plan.
Vegetarians and vegans say that if the proposal becomes law in September, food manufacturers would have to adopt unattractive alternative product names such as "vegetable tubes" or "vegetable slices."
They say that this would discourage consumers at a time when we are encouraged to eat less meat to protect our health and the environment.
Steaks are high
It also has an unfair impact on vegans, says Mark Banahan, Campaign and Policy Officer at the Vegan Society. "It would [have an] impact [on] their ability to easily choose foods in accordance with their beliefs ".
However, according to David Lindars, Technical Manager of the British Meat Processors Association (BPMA), the plan would provide much needed clarity.
"Terms like sausage, steak, burger and schnitzel are synonymous with meat and that should be made clear on the label.
"If you're a sausage producer, you'll like this plan," he says.
The proposal, known as Amendment 41, has been submitted by the Committee on Agriculture of the European Parliament as part of a broader bill to update the Common Agricultural Policy.
The MEPs who are in favor say it is "common sense" and would avoid confusion. They also said that it would expand protection for dairy products after the European Court of Justice banned the sale of soy milk as "soy milk" in 2017, which means it now has to be labeled as "soy drink".
Mr. Lindars admits that he has not seen any evidence that consumers are confused by terms such as veggie burger, and accepts that such terms have become common language.
But he says people need to know what's in their food, and the EU plan would make things "crystal clear."
"I think the clearer the label is, the better, especially if you have allergens, and you usually have to turn the product over to see what ingredients are included – but if it's on the front, it's more helpful."
Also, the British National Farmers Union, which will also testify on Wednesday, supports the plan in principle, albeit with reservations.
"We would want to protect traditional meat-based terms – so we would reject terms like meat-free minced meat," says a spokesman.
"But we do not think words like burgers and sausages fall into this category."
According to Banahan, the ban on terms such as vegetarian burger and vegetarian sausage will actually "cause confusion" and restrain the vegetable food industry.
He says that terms like burgers and sausages convey more than what is contained in the product – they also convey the shape, the taste, how to cook them and what they should be served with – for example chips with burgers or a roll.
Lynne Elliot, Managing Director of the Vegetarian Society, agrees and adds that if the new plan is implemented, food producers will have huge costs for changing their brand, marketing and packaging.
"McDonalds has had a veggie burger for a long time, Greggs has introduced his vegan sausage sandwiches, and KFC has launched its vegan burger this week, and they like to use those terms because they mean something to their customers."
Will the law be passed?
According to a Waitrose survey last year, every eighth Briton is now vegetarian or vegan, with another 21% claiming to be flexitarian, which means they eat meat occasionally.
And the EU's per capita meat consumption forecasts drop from the current 69.3 kg / year to 68.6 kg over the next 12 years.
It may not be surprising that some MEPs and charities have proposed using Amendment 41 to protect the meat industry.
But Mr. Lindars does not believe that the plan, if put into action, will benefit the producers. "People who are looking for herbal products will know the difference, they will not affect sales."
There is a good chance that the European Parliament will approve Amendment 41 in its vote in September – although the legislation may not bring it that far, says Banahan.
The parliament had just held elections so that its agriculture committee would be convened again and it was unclear whether the new group would support the proposal despite all criticism.
The UK is also free to ignore the law after it leaves the EU – although Mr. Banahan says the regulations still apply to British products being sold to the EU.
"Maybe many manufacturers have to adopt a new language anyway … As with everything that has to do with Brexit, it's complicated," he says.