The same standard for all : why it’s urgent to defend the Vegan claim

French farmers lay siege to Paris - 29/01/2024

At the heart of Europe, the agricultural landscape is undergoing a profound crisis, and France, the continent’s agricultural powerhouse, is at the epicentre of this turmoil. Since several years, the French agricultural sector has been facing a host of challenges, ranging from economic pressures to environmental concerns. In this turmoil, one issue stands out: the problem of unfair competition between farmers. This crisis not only threatens the livelihoods of countless farming families, but also highlights the urgent need for regulatory measures to safeguard the integrity of the sector. Furthermore, as the rise of veganism gains momentum, a parallel can be drawn with the lack of protection for the Vegan claim. Indeed, this lack of protection will cause similar problems in the close future in the food industry.

Europe’s agricultural crisis: Revealing the root causes

At the heart of Europe’s farm crisis is a complex interplay of factors that have converged to create a perfect storm for farmers. One of the main drivers of this crisis is persistent downward pressure on prices, fuelled by global market dynamics and exacerbated by trade imbalances and geopolitical tensions. Across Europe, including France, farmers are struggling to cope with fluctuating commodity prices, which are often below production costs, squeezing their already thin margins and pushing many to the brink of bankruptcy. What’s more, the various mandatory or voluntary environmental certifications are having a greater financial impact on all those involved in building more sustainable agriculture. So how can we restore a degree of fairness?

In addition, the European agricultural sector is grappling with the consequences of Brexit, which has disrupted established business models and increased uncertainty for farmers relying on the UK market. Supply chain disruption, increased bureaucracy and regulatory divergence have added a new layer of complexity to an already precarious situation, further testing the resilience of European agriculture.

French farmers lay siege to Paris

In France, the agricultural crisis is compounded by national challenges, including bureaucracy, labour shortages and the encroachment of urbanisation on fertile land. Small and medium-sized farms, once the backbone of rural communities, are increasingly marginalised, unable to compete with the large agro-industrial conglomerates that wield considerable market power and enjoy preferential treatment in government policies.

Unfair competition: An imminent threat to farmers’ livelihoods

One of the most pressing issues exacerbating the agricultural crisis in France is unfair competition between farmers. Large industrial farms, often subsidised by public authorities, are flooding the market with cheap produce, to the detriment of small producers who adhere to sustainable farming practices and pay fair wages to their workers.

In addition, the proliferation of counterfeit products and food fraud undermines consumer confidence and the integrity of the agricultural sector. From false claims of origin to the use of unauthorised pesticides, unscrupulous actors exploit regulatory loopholes to gain a competitive advantage, leaving honest farmers at a distinct disadvantage.

The rise of e-commerce platforms and direct-to-consumer sales channels has also disrupted traditional distribution channels, giving rise to a new breed of intermediaries who prioritise profit margins over farmers’ welfare. As a result, many small producers are struggling to access markets and receive fair remuneration for their produce, perpetuating the cycle of poverty and despair in rural communities.

Regulating Vegan claim: Lessons from the farm crisis

Alongside the farm crisis, another debate is gaining momentum in the food industry: regulating the Vegan claim on consumer products. As demand for plant-based alternatives continues to grow, so does the prevalence of products marketed as ‘vegan’, ‘veggie’ or ‘plant-based’. While this trend offers promising opportunities for innovation and sustainability, it also raises concerns about misrepresentation and unfair competition in the marketplace.

Just as some farmers exploit regulatory loopholes to gain a competitive advantage, some food manufacturers take advantage of the ambiguity surrounding vegan labelling to market products that may not meet consumers’ ethical or dietary preferences. In the absence of clear standards and controls, consumers risk being misled by misleading labelling practices, undermining confidence in vegan products and in the food industry in general.

To meet this challenge, while waiting for the regulatory authorities to establish clear guidelines for the use of the ‘vegan’ claim, EVE Vegan is ensuring that products marketed as such comply with strict criteria for production methods and transparent labelling. We aim to protect consumers and ethical producers and preserve the integrity of the booming vegan market.

Towards a sustainable future for agriculture and food

The agricultural crisis affecting Europe, and France in particular, underlines the urgent need for comprehensive reforms aimed at resolving the systemic problems affecting the sector. Whether it’s unfair competition, market distortions, regulatory loopholes, environmental needs or consumer deception, the challenges facing farmers and food producers are manifold and require concerted action by policymakers, stakeholders and consumers.

By prioritising fair trade practices, encouraging sustainable farming methods and empowering small-scale producers, Europe can pave the way towards a more resilient and equitable agricultural sector. Similarly, by establishing an obligation to certify products labelled as ‘vegan’, regulators can foster consumer confidence and support the growth of ethical and sustainable food systems. Overly vague terms such as Veggie or “plant-based” currently have no value or guarantee for consumers.

Navigating the Intersection of Agricultural Crisis and Eco-Friendly Claims

As Europe grapples with the complexities of the agricultural crisis, the parallels with the burgeoning debate surrounding eco-friendly claims, particularly the “vegan” label, offer valuable insights into the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. Just as the agricultural crisis has laid bare the systemic issues plaguing the industry, it also serves as a harbinger of what could transpire in the realm of eco-friendly marketing and sustainability claims.

Looking to the future, the convergence of these two phenomena offers a glimpse into the complexities of navigating a rapidly evolving food landscape.

By learning from the lessons of the agricultural crisis we can collectively chart a course toward a more resilient, equitable, and sustainable future. Through EVE Vegan help us build a production system that not only meets the needs of the present but also safeguards the well-being of future generations and the planet we call home.