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Plant-Based Products Gaining Traction in Europe, But Policy Changes Needed for Wider Adoption

FOOD & AGRICULTUREPlant-Based Products Gaining Traction in Europe, But Policy Changes Needed for Wider Adoption

More than half of Europeans actively reduce their annual meat consumption. Nearly 30 percent consume at least one plant-based alternative to meat or dairy at least once a week, according to a ProVeg study. Changing consumer habits are driving the plant-based product industry, but systemic changes would also support it, such as broader funding for plant production at the expense of meat or reducing the tax on low environmental footprint foods.

“On a systemic level, supporting increased consumption of plant products can be done in many different ways, both at the EU level and through national regulations. The first issue is EU regulations, where funding for the meat or plant industry can indeed have significant importance, for example, in the perspective of the Common Agricultural Policy for the coming years,” says Marcin Tischner, Public Affairs Coordinator at ProVeg, to Newseria Biznes.

According to FAO data, from 2013 to 2018, global support for food and agriculture averaged almost $630 billion annually. About 70 percent of the support was directed to individual farmers through trade and market policies and fiscal subsidies largely linked to production. However, a study published in “Nature Food” shows that in 2013, over 80 percent of public funds allocated to farmers under the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) were for animal products.

“If a lot of funds are currently going to the meat industry, it’s no wonder that meat consumption remains high. Greater support for local plant products such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, and nuts is something that would really stimulate the consumption of these types of products,” argues ProVeg expert.

A recent analysis by the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment showed that in the EU, animal farmers received 1200 times more public funds than groups dealing with plant-based food, and in the USA, 800 times more.

“It’s a matter of what kind of products are promoted, the possible introduction of environmental charges related to the environmental footprint of a given product. The environmental footprint of red meat is much higher than that of vegetables and fruits,” notes Marcin Tischner.

Already, 62 percent of Europeans support tax exemptions for food products that support environmental and health issues. This idea also received significant support among Polish consumers.

“This term includes vegetables, fruits, legumes, and nuts. It’s known that the lower the price, the greater the interest, the greater the demand. So, it does seem like a fairly simple fiscal tool that could support good dietary habits,” assesses the expert. “There is also much to be done at the national level. It’s a matter of the availability of plant-based meals in schools, kindergartens, public institutions, all types of public canteens such as hospitals, offices. This would certainly strongly influence the improvement of our dietary habits, the increase in the consumption of vegetables, legumes, fruits. A lot is happening in Poland already, a lot is being talked about, we are waiting for specific regulations.”

While 46 percent of Europeans declare increased trust in plant alternatives compared to two years ago, one of the main barriers to more frequent consumption of plant products is their price and availability. More than half of surveyed Poles indicate that plant products are too expensive.

“When we reach a situation like what we see in Germany, Belgium, or the Netherlands, where the price of plant products is at the same level as animal products, it may turn out that a completely new group of consumers will unlock for these products. So, certainly, the issue of price, scalability will play a significant role and is a big opportunity for market development,” emphasizes Marcin Tischner. “The plant-based product industry is definitely looking at an important year because it needs to rebuild interest, re-demonstrate the values and benefits associated with consuming its products.”

As he stresses, one of the benefits of developing this sector, which is increasingly being discussed, is the issue of food security.

“We strongly encourage and appeal for greater interest in this sector, support for development, innovations in this industry because basing our food system on a few sources of animal products such as poultry, pork, beef, without an alternative in case of, for example, a mass disease outbreak like bird flu, ASF or swine flu, may make our food system unstable. A well-developed plant product sector can provide a lower environmental footprint alternative with many health benefits for consumers,” says the ProVeg representative.

A threat to the industry’s development could be the introduction of a ban on using meat names for plant-based alternatives, which more and more EU countries are considering. France has already adopted such regulations – from May, it was supposed to be prohibited to use terms like steak, sausage, or ham in relation to products containing only plant proteins. However, for now, at the court’s request, this regulation has been suspended. Similar provisions are also being considered in the Czech Republic, Romania, or Slovakia. In Poland, a letter signed by several agricultural organizations regarding a draft regulation on the labeling of individual types of foodstuffs has been submitted to the Minister of Agriculture Czesław Siekierski. A similar proposal was considered in the previous term of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

“Producers of plant-based foods certainly need to monitor what is happening in terms of possible regulations and legal changes. In December last year, the issue of possible restrictions on plant-based meat substitutes suddenly came up, which would apply to four different meat-related names. We see that discussions on this idea are ongoing, we don’t know when, to what extent, to what extent, which products they will affect, but it is certainly a topic worth monitoring,” notes Marcin Tischner.

As he emphasizes, the industry also monitors regulations related to so-called greenwashing and environmental labels (green claims). According to PwC, citing research by the European Commission, over 53 percent of the statements examined were unclear, misleading, or unfounded, and 40 percent were completely unjustified.

“It’s about terms like climate-friendly product, climate-neutral, which will be under scrutiny by authorities. Indeed, if a producer wants to use any eco-labels on their product, they will have to have solid data for it, which simply have to be true. Not every product will be able to be called eco or organic,” points out the expert.

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