Urban Dynamics

Future Foods Update | May 2024

Published on 3rd May 2024

This edition includes new UK guidance on plant-based dairy products, an Austrian case on naming plant-based products, and EU developments on lab-grown meat.

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Recent developments

Guidance prepared for the UK government focuses on acceptable terms for plant-based products

The Food Standards and Information Focus Group (FSIFG) has prepared draft guidance on how plant-based dairy companies should describe their products, aimed at helping trading standards officers interpret inherited EU laws.

It aims to ensure that alternatives to conventional foods of animal origin are clearly distinguished. If the guidance is implemented, plant-based companies would be prevented from using terms such as "not milk", "cheeze" or "milk alternative" and companies subject to complaints may face enforcement actions like changes to brand names or packaging, which could come at a hefty cost (and may have to be passed on to the consumer).

The guidance has been widely criticised by various industry bodies, brands and Members of Parliament. For example, the food awareness organisation ProVeg called on the government to stop the publication of the guidance, arguing that consumers are well aware of the differences between traditional milk-based products and plant-based alternatives and the guidance would create more confusion and stifle a growing market.

The guidance, which was expected to be published by Easter this year, has yet to be released publicly.  It is widely thought to steer plant-based companies away from using asterisked characters, homophones or any word play (for example, "this is not che*se"). It is also understood to cite examples, for example instead of calling a product "soya yoghurt", companies should instead describe the goods as a "soya dessert fermented with live cultures", as well as offering "vegan soft-white balls with a light cheese flavour" in place of "vegan mozzarella".

The guidance, once issued, will have a big impact on how plant-based alternative products can be marketed and brands should keep these developments under review.

Vegan salmon company sued for misleading shoppers

The debate over using descriptive words for plant-based alternatives to meat continues. On the one side, stakeholders in the meat industry argue that certain phrases on plant-based labels might mislead consumers, while plant-based companies and environmental lobby groups argue that there is no such confusion and that the meat industry is attempting to stifle growth of the plant-based sector.

In a recent addition to the discussion, Austria's Administrative Court dismissed a case lodged by the Vienna City Council against Revo Foods, a plant-based seafood startup. It brought a claim against the company in relation to its "Revo Salmon" product, which is a plant-based alternative to "salmon" made out of vegan protein, arguing that it could mislead customers into thinking it contained animal-derived fish.

In defending the product, the company's CEO, Dr Robin Simsa, stated that the packaging clearly labels the products as vegan and using only plant-based ingredients. Revo Foods also stated that it believes that labelling restrictions unfairly target plant-based products and seek to distort the competition as debates on naming regulations focus on plant-based products.

Austria's Administrative Court agreed with Revo that there was no confusion, citing Revo Foods’ clear and accurate labelling of the product as being vegan and made entirely from plant-based ingredients.

New genomic techniques in EU and UK

We mentioned in our previous update that the EU is developing its position on new genomic techniques. Read our Insights for more on the EU and UK positions: What are the patentability implications of deregulating gene editing in plants in the EU? and The UK is developing its approach to deregulating gene editing in plants.

English High Court overturns UK Intellectual Property Office decision on trade mark for oat-based drinks

Court finds trade mark valid despite use of the term "milk", ruling that the UKIPO wrongly found mark invalid and that it did not breach regulation on use of term.
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Longer reads

Italy bans lab-grown meat, violating EU procedure

In December 2023, the Italian government implemented a ban on cultivated meats, restricting both the production and marketing of these products. The Italian bill was subject to EU scrutiny, as the EU is also considering this type of novel food. However, the law was adopted before the end of the standstill period laid down by Directive (EU) 2015/1535, and in doing so, Italy violated a key EU scrutiny procedure.

Read more >

Venture capital in future foods businesses: the art of balancing investor protections in shareholder agreements

The importance of balancing competing investor protections with the freedoms needed for a future foods company to thrive is challenging but vital to the company's success .

Venture capital investors invariably require contractual protections to safeguard their investment. Generally, it follows that a greater level of investment (whether by amount or proportion of a round) necessitates greater protection. All rights, however, must to be proportionate and balanced as between competing investors, the founders and what the company needs to be able to operate successfully and grow.

Key rights in a shareholders' agreement that businesses should focus on to reach the right balance include board representation, reserved consent matters of investors, information rights and founder restrictive covenants.
Read more >

What UK future foods businesses should know about recent employment law developments

New rates and limits, legislation on flexible working and family-friendly leave, and redundancy protection are some of the areas of change for employers.
Read more >

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* This article is current as of the date of its publication and does not necessarily reflect the present state of the law or relevant regulation.

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