Vegetarian meat substitutes often bear the name of the meat product that they are replacing – for example, schnitzel, sausage roll or chicken kebab. In the Netherlands, politicians are debating these practices and considering how to stop this misleading use of meat names.

Trademark law covers misleading trademarks. For example, a trademark such as JUST MAYO may be a misleading trademark for a sauce that is actually a mayonnaise substitute. A trademark application will be rejected if the trademark authority feels that the submitted trademark is misleading. If it only becomes clear in practice that the trademark is misleading, the trademark can be cancelled by the courts.

When does trademark law apply? Terms such as ‘croquette’ or ‘burger’ are not trademarks; rather, they are the type of food, so the use of these terms does not fall under trademark law. Provided that the makers of meat substitute products do not register trademarks for possible misleading terms, the trademark authority or courts cannot apply trademark law.

When is a name misleading? Misleading advertising can lead to objections being raised in court based on legislation regarding misleading trade practices. If a consumer becomes confused by the vegetarian variants of meat product names, this can be misleading. This may even be the case if the packaging states that these are vegetarian products, but this is not clear enough to alert consumers.

This is not just a Dutch problem. Recently, a German consumer organisation launched legal proceedings against a tea producer because the label suggested that it contained raspberry and vanilla, although this was not the case. The court accepted the complaint and thus protected the consumer. In the Netherlands, it appears that people prefer to adjust the rules before anyone complains. Ultimately, the courts should determine whether the use of meat terms for vegetarian products is actually misleading. Further, ministers should draft legislation that restricts the use of these terms for meat substitutes.

This article first appeared in IAM. For further information please visit www.iam-media.com.