The conversation over how to label food products made from plant-proteins and cell-cultured meat is heating up in Europe. Like the United States, the issue has centered on what terms can and cannot be used to market meat-alternatives and cell-cultured products. France decreed a ban on the use of traditional “meat” terms for plant-based protein items, and proposed legislation to ban the manufacture of “synthetic meat.” This article will compare the French decree with current US proposed labeling legislation and will look at the cell-cultured debate in both Europe and the US.

France banning traditional meat terms

On February 26, 2024, France issued a decree banning the use of terms traditionally used on labeling for foodstuffs of animal origin from being used to describe, market, or promote foodstuffs derived from plant proteins. Plant proteins are defined in the decree as “proteins derived from or provided by organisms belonging to all kingdoms other than the animal kingdom.” The decree provides that products containing plant proteins are prohibited from using terms in their description and promotion which refer to “species and groups of animal species,” terms which are included in the list of prohibited terms in in Annex I of the decree, and terms that label the plant-based product with a legal name that does not recognize the addition of plant protein in the foodstuff’s composition. The decree allows the use of terms traditionally used to designate foodstuffs of animal origin when the food deriving from animals contains a regulatory determined proportion of vegetable proteins, and for the designation of flavorings or food ingredients with flavoring properties. Terms traditionally used to designate foodstuffs of animal origin are also permitted when foods derived from animals are combined in dishes with other types of foodstuffs.

In Annex I, the decree includes a list of twenty-one terms that are prohibited from being used to designate “foodstuffs containing vegetable proteins,” including ham and steak. Annex II of the decree provides a chart showing the maximum amount of plant proteins that can be present in a food product derived from animals while still allowing the product to be labeled with the terms provided in Annex I. For example, under the provisions of Annex I, the term “steak” would be prohibited from the label of a plant-based alternative food product created to look like a steak. Additionally, under Annex II, a sausage food product containing 0.50% of vegetable protein content only from “condiments and aromatics” would be permitted to bear the term “sausage meat” on its label.  It is important to note that the list in Annex I does not include the term “burger” – arguably one of the most popular terms used for plant-based protein products. The decree only applies to food products manufactured in France and contains a provision specifically excluding products legally manufactured in another member state of the European Union (EU) or another country. Because the decree is exclusive to French made products, it will not have implications on plant-based products manufactured in and imported from other countries.

In 2022, France attempted to ban the use of traditional meat names for plant-based foods, but the 2022 provision was suspended by an administrative court for being too vague and having a too short turnaround for companies producing plant-based proteins. The 2024 decree comes amid months of protests from French farmers against environmental regulations and the high costs of agricultural inputs prompting some to describe the decree as a move to appease the protesting farmers. The decree comes into effect on May 1, 2024, but foods labeled before the effective date may be marketed until the stock runs out or one year from the publication of the decree.

Proposed US legislation of alternative meat labels

In the United States, there is currently no federal ban on labeling plant proteins with terms traditionally used for food products derived from animals. However, there is proposed legislation in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate addressing the issue. The Fair and Accurate Ingredient Representation on Labels Act of 2024 (Fair Labels Act) would give regulatory authority to the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) for the labeling of both “imitation” and “cell-cultured” meat and poultry products. The legislation defines “imitation meat and poultry” as food products derived from non-meat or poultry alternatives that are created to look like meat or poultry products. Unlike the French legislation, the Fair Labels Act does not specifically refer to “plant poultry,” but gives broad sweeping coverage to alternative food products created to look like meat or poultry products. Additionally, unlike the French legislation which only applies to food products manufactured in France, the Fair Labels Act does not specifically apply to only US-made products and would have an impact on imported goods.

The Fair Labels Act also does not include a list, like the one found in Annex I of the French decree, of terms prohibited for use by plant protein products, nor does it include a list with maximum proportions of plant protein allowed in meats bearing a tradition meat term. While the list in Annex I does not include the word “burger,” the Fair Labels Act would regulate use of the term “burger” for plant-based protein products because the term qualifies as a “market name” that is “otherwise represented as, meat or meat food product, but does not contain meat, meat food product, or meat byproduct ingredients.” Unlike the French degree, the Fair Labels Act also covers marketing tools other than just “terms.” The Fair Labels Act specifically mentions market names, descriptors, and iconography. Additionally, instead of merely banning the use of traditional meat terms on labeling for plant protein-based food products, the Fair Labels Act requires the inclusion of the word “imitation” or a statement that the food product is derived from sources other than meat, and a disclaimer that the product is not derived from meat on the label. For more on the proposed US legislation, click here to read NALC article “FAIR Labels Act of 2024.”

Along with the proposed federal legislation, several states have passed laws limiting the use of “meat” terms for plant-based products and requiring the disclosure of cell-cultivation on cell-cultured products. The constitutionality of these laws is being litigated in several lawsuits. Click here for more NALC resources on the Truth in Labeling issue.

Plant protein labels in the EU

The EU has previously rejected a proposal to ban the use of terms traditionally associated with meat for labeling plant-based products. Though the EU does have bans against words like “milk,” “butter,” and “yogurt” for plant-based dairy alternatives, it rejected the proposal for meats in 2020 under the rational that the prohibition of traditional meat terms on plant-based products would be counter to its climate goals.

France proposes to ban cell-cultured meat

In addition to the ban on plant protein food products using labeling terms traditionally used to designate food derived from animals, France also proposed legislation to ban the manufacture of cell-cultured meat. France’s Les Republicains party introduced a bill in the National Assembly to prohibit the “production, import, export, marketing or placing on the market, free of charge or for a fee of. . . synthetic food and meat.” “Synthetic food and meat” is defined as food products produced from “animal cells cultured in vitro to reproduce muscle tissues or other specific components of conventional meat.” France’s bill comes just a few months after Italy became the first nation to ban the production, sale and import of cultivated meat. Italy’s legislation banning cell-cultured meat also includes a provision prohibiting terms traditionally related to foods derived from animals from being used in labeling for foods derived from plant proteins. Although the European Union has not authorized the marketing of synthetic meat, France, Italy, and Austria along with nine other countries have come together to ask the EU to initiate a proper impact assessment before authorizing synthetic food and meat products for sale.

US cell-cultured meat position

Unlike the EU, the US has authorized the sale of cell-cultured meat, and the first cell-cultivated chicken was sold in the US at a restaurant in San Francisco in July 2023. The Fair Labels Act addresses cell-cultured meat, not by banning it as France’s proposed legislation has, but by regulating the labeling of cell-cultured food products. However, the state of Florida has a bill passed by both its House and Senate that is currently awaiting signature from Governor Ron DeSantis which prohibits the manufacture for sale or distribution of cultivated meat within the state. Lawmakers in Arizona and Tennessee have proposed similar bills.


The question of how to label food items derived from plant proteins or cell-cultured meat is something lawmakers in both the US and EU are currently grappling with. France issued a decree banning their domestic manufactures from labeling plant protein products with terms traditionally associated with animal derived products. Although cell-cultivated meat is not authorized for sale in the EU, France followed in the footsteps of Italy by also banning the manufacture of cell-cultivated meat. The labeling of meat alternatives and the manufacturing of cell-cultured meat is being debated in the US Congress and in state legislatures.


For more information on cell-cultured meat, click here for NALC factsheet “The Regulation of ‘Cell-Cultured Meat”

For more information on alternative meat labels, click here for NALC webinar “What’s in a Name?”: Laws & Regulations Governing Alternative Protein Labels

For more information on food labeling generally, visit NALC Food Labeling Reading Room.