In a significant step to improve clarity in food labeling, the Chilean Senate recently approved a bill that redefines the concept of meat, explicitly excluding plant-based substitutes from this denomination.

The legislation, which is now awaiting review and final approval from the Chilean House of Representatives, aims to make sure consumers understand what they are buying. The bill goes in line with similar initiatives in Europe and the recent announcement by the French government of new legislation on this matter.

Under the new law, the word “meat” will be exclusively reserved for “the edible part of the muscles of slaughter animals,” making it clear that products such as hamburgers, sausages, and hot dogs must come from animal sources, unless their plant-based origin is explicitly specified. This legal change, promoted by the Senate’s Agriculture Committee after a thorough analysis and amendment of the original draft, seeks to bring Chilean legislation into line with similar movements in Europe and other parts of the world.

The denomination of meat products and their plant-based alternatives is a relevant and evolving issue, leading different countries to pass specific legislation. The main objective of these laws is to make product labeling clear to avoid any confusion from consumers and protect traditional meat denominations.

The European Union (EU) has intensely debated the naming of vegetarian and vegan products. Although restrictions on the use of meat terms for plant-based products have been proposed in the past, specific EU rules banning the use of terms such as “burger” or “sausage” for non-meat products had not been implemented as of 2023. However, legislation may vary between its Member States.

France has been one of the most proactive European countries in implementing laws banning the use of meat terms for plant-based products. Since 2020, the use of terms like burger, sausage or steak for products that are not of animal origin is restricted. On February 27, the French government took a step forward by issuing a decree that bans the use of terms such as filet, sirloin, entrecôte, ham, barbecue or steak in the labeling of foods containing plant-based proteins. For plant-based products to be able to adapt their labeling to the new law, the French regulation will be enforced three months after its enactment. The law also considers sanctions of up to 1,500 euros for individuals and 7,500 euros for companies in the event of infringement, which will also have one year to get rid of existing stock.

Meanwhile, Germany has followed a more tolerant approach to the naming of plant-based products. German companies can use meat terms to describe plant-based products, as long as they do not mislead consumers about the product’s origin.

In the United States, several states have introduced legislation to regulate denominations for meat and its plant-based alternatives. Overall, these laws require plant-based product labels not to use terms traditionally associated with animal meat, although specific enforcement and restrictions may vary. The U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) are involved in the regulation and labeling of these products at the federal level.

In other parts of the world, the situation varies widely, with some countries contemplating the introduction of legislation while others have already implemented specific rules. The global trend is a growing debate on how to balance innovation in the food industry with the protection of traditional denominations and clarity for consumers.

Rodrigo Castañón, ChileCarne’s Business Manager shared his take on the law, underscoring the importance of clear labeling. “ChileCarne welcomes any initiative aiming to provide a better understanding and clarity to the consumer about the products they buy. It is essential for legislation to be based on science and promote a transparent market,” he pointed out.

“More than a matter of nomenclature, this bill is a step towards labeling transparency, which we consider beneficial for both local producers and importers,” Castañón continued. He also highlights the relevance of this legislation in the context of a constantly evolving food market, marked by innovation and new consumer trends.

While the traditional meat industry values clear and accurate labeling, it also recognizes that there are more significant challenges on the horizon. “We welcome the efforts to make labeling clear, but we do not lose sight of other key issues for the industry, like sustainability, innovation in protein production, and adaptation to changing consumer preferences,” Castañón explained.

With this new law, Chile not only falls in line with the global trend towards clearer and more accurate labeling but also opens the conversation on the future of foods and the need for an approach that balances tradition and innovation.