The Battle to Call Plant Based Bacon & Sausages ‘Meat?

Outside the UK Parliament, three wieners dressed up as hot dog dogs stood.

This could have been a joke, but it was the beginning of a serious joke for the man who took the Dachshunds there.

Morten Toft Bench, the founder and CEO of a startup that makes plant based meat alternatives, brought the animals to protest.

It was 2020, and the European Parliament was voting on a ban against the use of meat-related words — like sausage, bacon, burger, chicken, and steak — in the names of plant-based food.

“Plant-based sausages” might have been renamed if the ban had not been lifted. Perhaps “plant-based tubes”? Vegetable hamburgers might be renamed to “discs” or “veggie strips” for plant-based bacon.

It was a serious threat for companies like Toft Bech’s UK company Meatless Farm. They make mince, burgers and “chicken” out of rice, soya and pea proteins.

Meatless Farm's sausage dog campaign outside UK parliament

Meatless Farm’s sausage dog campaigns outside the UK parliament.

Matt Alexander/PA

Toft Bech placed miniature placards next the dogs that said “What will you name us?” and “I’m not a tube dog,” pointing out that dachshunds, known in the UK as sausage dogs, get to use the meat-evoking word “sausage” in their name — so why couldn’t plant-based meat substitutes do the same?

The ban was rejected but the debate is not over two years later.

Sarah Morrell, a policy officer with Ulster Farmers’ Union, stated that bacon is cured meat made from the back or sides (or both) of a pork pig. This is in response to the Northern Ireland plant-based-food companies being banned from using “meaty” terms for their products.

Unions like hers are on one side of a heated international battle pitting meat-alternative startups — companies often only a few years old, whose backers include wealthy NBA stars and actors — and the millennia-old farming and agriculture industry.

Startups are increasingly finding themselves in court as meat lobbies — made up of farming unions, agriculture bodies, and other organizations representing meat producers — try to stop them from using meaty words to describe their products.

They are ready to fight. Toft bech said, “We are not going anywhere sitting down and smiling.”

It’s unclear which side is winning: Texas lawmakers are considering a banLouisiana is the other. struck down a lawMarch is the month for limiting certain “meat” terms. South Africa outlawedThe use of meaty names and its government even planned the seizing of artificial meat from store shelves until a last-minute court order stopped the law from being applied.

Meat lobbies argue plant-based products have taken over the idea of meat without matching its taste and nutrition standards. This is threatening the integrity of meat and its cultural significance.

Companies argue that their plant-based products can be referred to as the vegetarian version of the meat they are imitating. It’s only by using terms like sausage that companies can communicate to consumers which product they are promoting and how to cook it.

Ivan Farneti, an investor with Five Seasons Venture who backed This plant-based food business, said that the cost of these legal battles could be “the kiss of death” for startups that have limited resources.

A ‘insanely high’ legal bill

Investment in alternative proteins — a catch-all term for nonanimal proteins — has blown up, as concern builds about the environmental and animal welfare impacts of the meat industry.

According to data from PitchBook which tracks the venture capital industry, European startups attracted more than $1.1 billion in venture capitalists funding plant-based, fermented and cultivated protein as well as edible insects in 2021. The figure is up from $697million in the previous years. 


Startups that could be focusing their efforts on scaling are being hampered by legal disputes over naming.

Meatless Farm’s Toft Bech told Insider his company had spent about 5% of its £89 million in venture-capital funding on lawyers looking after its trademarks, as part of a legal bill he describes as “insanely large for the size of company we are”. It is defending its trademark against challenges over the use of “farm” within its name.

What could this money have done for us if it had gone to our bottom line? He asked.

Heura cofounders Bernat Ananos and Marc Coloma

Bernat Ananos (left), and Marc Coloma, cofounders of Heura.


Every minute spent on legal cases is less time spent on changing the food system, according to Bernat Añaños, who cofounded Heura, a Spanish startup that makes plant-based meat substitutes and is backed by the NBA star Ricky Rubio. Rubio and other backers, including Unovis Asset Management, have contributed 36 million euros.

Heura took to Instagram to share satirical redesignsIt could not use meaty words to describe its products. Meatballs became Pingpong balls and burgers were renamed “rabbit foods you can throw on the barbecue.”

“It’s an intimidation tactic”

La Vie, a French startup describes its food as “Bacon & lardons sans mr piggy”. They look like meat, but they are made from rehydrated soya proteins.

La Vie, which is backed by Natalie Portman is known for its playful advertisements.

In July it was among a group of companies — including Nestlé — that succeeded in pausing a French ban on plant-based foods using meat-related names. It was the first ban of its kind in Europe. introduced by the former French politician Jean-Baptiste Moreau, a cattle farmer.

Nicolas Schweitzer (CEO and cofounder of La Vie) said that they were “nervous, obviously.” Losing the case would mean rethinking the company’s branding, advertising, and packaging — letting products already packaged go to waste — and losing the meat-based names that customers have gotten to know over the years. La Vie had planned to move its manufacturing to Belgium in the event of the ban.

He expects to return to court next year to contest the ban and hopes to get it thrown out.

Schweitzer said that the meat lobby was “just trying slow us down.”

“It is an intimidation strategy,” he said. “It’s not going work.”

La Vie has chosen to wear its legal battles in honor. It has hired an internal lawyer and posts details of court cases on its website to promote its services.

It won a case against France’s pork lobby, The French Interprofessional Pork Council in June. They claimed that its advertising was misleading.

La Vie replied with a provocative ad: “Thanks for your compliment,” adding that “we think your pork lasans are indistinguishable form our veggie lasans.” Would you mind changing the recipe?

La Vie's newspaper advert

After winning a case, La Vie published an advertisement in the newspaper

La Vie

It was a typical move of Schweitzer, a 35-year-old who sees himself as a crusader for meat consumption and uses humor as his key weapon.

He stated, “I don’t see myself as a militant, but as an activist which is slightly different,” explaining that he tried “in a bizarre and positive way” to demand change in the food system.

Schweitzer argued that adding the “plant based” qualifier should suffice to make it clear that a product doesn’t contain meat. He said that consumers intuitively refer to his product as plant-based bacon when they look at it.

“The fact that it is only economic interest,” he stated, might prevent his company’s products from being referred to in the most explicit manner, “is just unacceptable.”

Common sense

The meat industry sees things differently.

It is common to argue that plant-based meat substitutes should not be allowed to use meaty terms because they aren’t meat. Insider learned that they aren’t comparable in terms of taste or texture.

Customers find it confusing and misleading, they claim, especially since meat alternatives are becoming more common in grocery stores next to animal meat.

Bruno Menne, a senior advisor at Europe’s meat body COPA COGECA said that plant-based foods are “hijacking the positive marketing that meat has built up over the decades.” 

Startups are encouraged by meat bodies to develop new terms for plant-based foods that mimic meat. “It is a matter of common sense and consistency,” José Manuel Alvarez, a representative of Carne y Salud, a group representing Spanish meat organizations.

Nutrition is a concern too. Some plant-based products have been criticised for being highly processed.

Menne used this lens to accuse his plant-based rivals of hiding behind meaty labels that obscure how they are made. He stated, “By using it, you manage not to actually tell the customer what is in your product.”

He said that a meat-free burger may be high in protein but “you don’t have the same amino acid, the same vitamins and zinc, and so forth.” 

Insider was told by both meat and plant-based organizations that they advocate a healthy, balanced lifestyle.

Trading down

The battle over meaty name comes at a time when companies that produce meat-alternative products are in a vulnerable position.

Despite the boom investment, meat alternatives are experiencing disappointing sales growth. They are also feeling the pressure of market volatility, inflation, and Alex Frederick, a PitchBook analyst, said that this was driving consumers to “trade down” to cheaper proteins such as animal meat.

According to IRI data from November 6, volume sales of meat substitutes in the US have fallen 12.1% since last year. It is not possible to find European-wide data.

Bans on meat-based names could slow sales further, weakening the case for more investment — investment that is essential to keep developing plant-based products that might rival meat in terms of taste, texture and nutritional value.

Five Seasons Ventures founder Farneti said that naming restrictions would be a huge blow to the already difficult job involved in running these startups. “Founders are in deep water right?” He said. “They will swim in mud if they change these rules,” he stated.

“We don’t want to destroy our everyday cultural heritage.”

Heura’s products are soy-based chicken, chorizo substitutes and meatballs with pea protein. It has been sued for using the word “carne” — Spanish for meat — in advertisements.

Añaños, the Heura cofounder, accepts that the legal battles come with the territory. He said that if everyone liked us, we wouldn’t be transformative.

Heura Foods' Mediterranean chunks products in yellow packaging.

Heura Foods

He believes that the idea that startups like his threaten all the things people love about meat is a misinterpretation. He said, “We don’t want to destroy the everyday culture.” “I love barbecuing with my friends. I love Christmas dinners at my grandma. I love all things that are related to meat, but I hate the results.

He believes the state can play a role in helping meat producers move to a “plant-based era,” by helping farmers switch from meat raising to grow legumes and beans.

Despite the animosity, he feels meat producers and plant-based companies will ultimately have to work together: “The climate crisis and the animal crisis is also a challenge of humanity, and either we go together or we will fail — there is no other answer.”

Toft Bech stated, “It’s a shame.” “I would prefer to get some support, maybe a little bit of regulatory environment that’s more supportive for the new status quo than the old status quo.”

The founder and CEO of vegetarian food company Meatless Farm, Morten Toft Bech.

Morten Toft Bench, founder and CEO at Meatless Farm, is a vegetarian food company.

Farm that is meatless

He can envision a future where animal-based products dominate the luxury meat market and plant-based options replace cheaper, everyday meats. He wants Meatless Farm’s products to replace middle-market cuts that are mass-produced in industrial farms — not quality, hand-reared meat.

Insider heard from startups that the court battles were worth the effort and the time. Schweitzer said, “We are fully committed towards our vision, so it doesn’t matter the backlash.” 

Companies like his are relatively new and unlike the animal-meat sector, they don’t have millions or long cultural histories to protect. 

All they have to defend is their products — and their names. Schweitzer stated that “we have nothing to lose.”

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