ENSA reactive statement – Opinion of the Advocate General on the use of the algae lithothamnium in organic products

ENSA reactive statement – Opinion of the Advocate General on the use of the algae lithothamnium in organic products

The Advocate General of the European Court of Justice shared today his Opinion on a case relating to the use of non-organic algae lithothamnium in organic plant-based drinks (C-815/19). The final ruling of the European Court of Justice is expected in Spring 2021.

The red algae lithothamnium is an algae rich in calcium and magnesium, which is used as an ingredient in organic plant-based drinks. Like all organic products, organic plant-based drinks cannot be fortified with additives and minerals such as calcium carbonate. For this reason, natural ingredients rich in calcium such as lithothamnium are used instead to offer consumers plant-based drinks which are meeting their expectations in terms of nutrient profile, namely similar nutritional composition as non-organic products. It is a similar approach to using oat in order to obtain a higher fiber content in the final product e.g. a muesli.

We deeply regret that the Advocate General did not recognise the difference between the addition of calcium carbonate derived from lithothamnium (i.e. the addition of a mineral substance which is prohibited in organic products) and the use of a lithothamnium as an ingredient of agricultural origin naturally rich in calcium, the use of which should be allowed under the provisions of the EU Organic Regulation, even if non-organic. We hope the Court in its final ruling will review these arguments in more details than the Advocate General and make the difference clear.

Organic products represent about 25% of the plant-based drinks market. If this interpretation is maintained, there will be only calcium-free organic options on the market in the future, at odds with national health authorities recommending the consumption of calcium-rich plant-based products. Consumers would be deprived from nutritionally relevant organic plant-based options, and likely to turn towards conventional products. This would mean that the market would shift towards conventional plant-based drinks, which is the opposite direction announced by the European Commission in its Farm to Fork Strategy which aims to increase organic production and consumption.

ENSA contribution consultation Organic Action Plan

There is a consensus among the scientific community on the needs to rebalance our current dietary patterns to consume less animal protein and more plant-based protein1. By offering consumers tasty, convenient and nutritionally relevant alternatives, the plant-based foods industry has a role to play towards a more sustainable food consumption. This is a true for conventional plant-based food products, and even more so for organic plant-based food products.
Consumers who are seeking to adopt a healthier and more sustainable diet are more likely to look for both organic and/or plant-based foods. For instance, the organic plant-based drinks such as soy, almond, rice and other nuts- or cereals-based drinks represent 20-25% of the total plant-based drinks market in Europe (in comparison to the organic cow’s milk segment representing 3% of the total EU milk production2).
We believe that consumer demand is the key to attain the 25% organic production target set in the Farm to Fork Strategy. But to attract consumers, organic food products need to be tasty, affordable, convenient and nutritionally relevant. We support the views expressed by the broader organic sector on ways to make organic foods products more accessible and more affordable for consumers. We would however like to focus our own comments on the need to ensure that organic products can be as convenient and as nutritionally relevant as conventional food products.
In particular, it is essential that organic plant-based food products can be made using a wide variety of (organic) ingredients to meet consumer expectations in terms of texture, taste and nutritional profile. For instance, since the addition of nutrients in organic food is prohibited, plant-based foods manufacturers need to be allowed to use and have access to agricultural ingredients which are naturally rich in calcium, such as the red algae Lithothamnium, to offer consumers an organic product similar to the conventional one from a nutritional perspective. Ensuring the continued use of functional food ingredients is a must-have to make organic food products at least as attractive as the conventional equivalent.
Increased consumption of organic plant-based foods will be good for consumer health, for the environment and for the organic farming sector. Organic agricultural materials for plant-based drinks are sourced directly from organic farmers (in the case of organic soybeans, 100% sourced from EU farmers), with contracts running over 1 to 3 years. Growing plant protein for the food market brings economic benefits for farmers3, even more so in the organic sector where an organic premium is paid on top. Supporting EU farmers to grow more (organic) plant protein is an objective of the EU which the plant-based food sector fully supports and contributes to through local programmes.

Denominations of plant-based food and drink products: European Parliament sends mixed message ahead of trilogue negotiations on CAP Reform

The European Plant-based Foods Association (ENSA) is puzzled by the outcome of today’s vote on the Common Market Organisation (CMO) Regulation, within the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). On the one hand, MEPs massively rejected the introduction of restrictions on the use of meat-related terms on plant-based food products, recognising that consumers are not confused by the use of such terms and that these products have a role to play in the transition towards more sustainable diets. On the other hand, MEPs supported an amendment which, if adopted in the final text, would introduce far-reaching restrictions on the use of dairy terms on plant-based products.
Dairy denominations are already protected in EU legislation, prohibiting the use of sales denominations such as ‘oat milk’. ENSA members have never referred to their products as “milk”, “yoghurt” or “dairy” without further qualification, because their products are not made using cow's milk. On the contrary, plant-based food manufacturer offer an alternative to animal-based milk products and clearly indicate this to the consumer by describing their products as “dairy alternatives”, “milk alternatives” and “plant-based alternatives to yoghurt”. If adopted in the final text, amendment 171 would go way beyond that by prohibiting any indirect reference to dairy terms in all commercial communications, meaning that terms such as ‘creamy’ or ‘plant-based alternatives to yoghurt’ could become illegal.
These provisions would hinder consumers’ access to plant-based foods by making it more difficult for them to identify these products. This is both unnecessary to protect consumers (BEUC’s position) and going against the scientific recommendations to switch to more sustainable diets including more plant-based foods.
Sue Garfitt, President of ENSA said: “The current rules are very clear: they protect consumers from misleading practices while providing an equal level playing field for fair competition between products which are alternatives. We are glad that the Parliament recognized this for plant-based alternatives to meat and we hope the inter-institutional negotiations will reach a similar conclusion as far as dairy alternatives are concerned”.
As inter-institutional negotiations will begin, we call on the Council to support clear information to consumers on plant-based foods and to reject the amendment 171 proposed by the Parliament. We also call on the Commission to stand by its own evaluation, which showed there was no need for further restrictions than what is already in place. We call for a detailed impact assessment of the provisions proposed by the Parliament, which we believe will have a negative impact on consumers, the environment and the European plant-based foods sector, in breach of the principle of proportionality enshrined in the Treaty on European Union.

Joint letter to MEPs - Aligning CMO with Farm to Fork

The European Plant-based Foods Association (ENSA), together with other 40 stakeholders, call on Members of the European Parliament to request a separate vote on and reject Amendments 165 and 171. These amendments would strongly hamper the further development of innovative, plant-based foods that have a key role to play in enabling citizens to make healthier and more sustainable food choices.

To access the full letter please click here.

ENSA reactive statement – Farm to Fork Strategy

The European Plant-based Foods Association (ENSA) warmly welcomes the publication of the Commission’s Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies. This sense of direction by the European Commission is even more timely as we collectively reflect on how to make our food system more resilient and more sustainable in the light of the ongoing covid-19 situation we have all been experiencing. A climate resilient agriculture and sovereign food ecosystems will also be key for the competitiveness of the European agri-food sector, as we embark in the Green Recovery.

We particularly welcome the Commission’s commitment to encourage consumers to adopt heathier and more sustainable eating habits, including more plant-based foods. The scientific consensus is indeed very clear: to remain within our planet’s boundaries, we need to rebalance our diets to include more reasonable proportions of food of animal origin, and more plant-based foods. We are pleased that the Commission did not shy away from recognising that a shift is necessary. We reiterate our commitment to playing our part in making it easy for consumers to make sustainable dietary choices. We hope that through concrete actions to come, the Farm to Fork Strategy will help establishing planetary health diets and generate significant health and environmental benefits.

Sue Garfitt, President of ENSA said: “it was time the elephant in the room be addressed! The EU cannot achieve its Green Deal ambitions if it overlooks the potential of a dietary shift to include more plant-based food on our plates.” 

ENSA’s perspective on the European Commission’s Farm to Fork Strategy

The European Plant-based Foods Association (ENSA) strongly supports the objectives of the European Commission’s Farm to Fork strategy to accelerate the transition towards a sustainable food system, through sustainable food production, processing and consumption. We call for the recognition of the contribution that plant-based foods make to a healthy and sustainable diet through their inclusion in dietary guidelines that take into account both nutrition and environmental sustainability. Sustainable dietary guidelines should be used as reference points to encourage consumers to rebalance their diets by including more diverse plant-based foods and to support European farmers to produce high-quality plant protein and and other sustainably-grown crops such as oats, almonds etc.For specific suggestions on how the EU can support sustainable plant-based diets from farm to fork, please see ENSA’s position attached.