Building of the Ministry of Agriculture in Prague.
Prague – According to the Ministry of Agriculture (MZe), the labeling of plant-based food alternatives such as vegetarian butter, eggs or milk alternatives is a violation of EU regulations. The opinion, which is not legally binding, was published at the end of January by the State Agricultural and Food Inspection (SZPI). This was pointed out in a press release by the organization ProVeg Czech Republic, which focuses on raising awareness of plant-based food alternatives. He has a legal analysis at his disposal, according to which the ministry effectively tells manufacturers that they must either change the names of their products or expect to have to go to court to protect their rights.
The Food Inspectorate stated that some labeling of food alternatives violates the Ordinance on the Organization of Markets in Agricultural Products or the Ordinance on Provision of Food Information. According to the inspection, in addition to the names, the overall presentation of the food, including graphic representation, will be assessed during the inspections, and the opinion of the Ministry of Health is only informative. “The binding interpretation of legal regulations when applying them to a specific case can only be carried out by independent courts. Any other interpretation of the legal regulation has only an informative meaning and is not legally relevant,” states SZPI.
The opinion concerns foods that are marketed as alternatives to products of animal origin. In the Czech Republic, Nestlé, for example, sells a tuna alternative based on pea protein called Vuňák, which belongs to its Garden Gourmet brand. It also sells a vegan egg alternative made from soy protein under the same brand. The opinion of the MZe states that the use of labels such as non-tuna or pea tuna are a violation of the EU regulation, because the designation tuna is defined for fish. Similarly, it considers the labeling of foods such as vegan cream, imitation yogurt, non-milk or, for example, non-honey, to be a violation of EU regulations.
According to the organization ProVeg, it is problematic that the Ministry of Health has labeled as illegal the use of the label as a plant-based alternative to various types of food. He states that this diverges from an earlier decision of the Czech court, which recommended such a label. According to the organization's spokesperson Eva Hemmerová, for example, the name of the plant-based alternative to cream intended for cooking is credible and clearly indicates how to use the product in the kitchen.
The legal analysis prepared by the law firm Plicka & Partners, states that the conclusions of the Ministry of Justice are not sufficiently justified. “This is very unusual from the point of view of the basic principles of law, because without knowledge of the considerations by which the public authority was guided, it is not even possible to legally review the relevant conclusions,” said attorney Robert Plicka, who is one of the authors.
According to the analysis, food manufacturers will eventually have to turn to the administrative court. “Since the judicial review of administrative decisions logically presupposes the existence of some administrative decision, a specific manufacturer will first have to go through a two-instance administrative procedure, in which the imposition of measures/fines by SZPI will be resisted,” the analysis states.