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Vegan burger
blog 10 Jan 2017

Could you say vegan meat is meat?

Vegetarian meat substitutes often carry the generic name of the meat product that they replace. Examples are schnitzel, sausage roll or chicken shawarma. Two Dutch politicians from the Liberal VVD party have asked the responsible ministers in writing questions about this and called for a ban on misleading meat names for products that contain no animal protein.

Trademark law already takes into account that certain marks can be misleading. A mark called “JUST MAYO” can be misleading if the product is actually a mayonnaise substitute. The trademark application will be denied if the trademark authority notices that the applied trademark is misleading. If it only becomes clear that the trademark is misleading after it has been successfully registered, the judge can annul it.

Trademark law?

Now, terms such as “kroketten” or “burgers”, are no longer trademarks, but generic names, meaning that the use of these terms do not fall under trademark law. As long as makers of meat substitutes won’t register trademarks under possibly misleading names, the trademark authority or judge cannot apply trademark law.

When a consumer gets confused by the vegetarian varieties on meat products names, it can be misleading.
NLO Shieldmark - Trademarks & Designs

Misleading?

Misleading advertising can lead to an objection to the courts, relying on the legislation concerning misleading commercial practices. When a consumer gets confused by the vegetarian varieties on meat products names, it can be misleading. This can even be the case if the packaging mentions that it contains vegetarian products, but can easily be overlooked by the consumer.

This issue is not a typical Dutch one. Recently, a German consumer organisation went to court against a tea producer because the packaging suggested that the product contained raspberry and vanilla, which was not true. The judge agreed with the organisation and protected the consumer by doing so. In the current case, it seems as if no one wants to let it go that far and will want to amend the rules before anyone in the Netherlands gets the chance to complain. Eventually, a judge will have to determine if the use of meat terms for vegetarian products is in fact misleading. Besides, ministers can draw up regulations in which the use of these terms for meat substitutes is restricted.