Burger brand Rustlers has caused a stir on social media with the launch of its new veggie burger, the Meatless Maverick. 

The controversy isn’t so much around what’s in the pack, but what’s on it. The packaging comes complete with a label depicting a leaf and the words ‘plant based’. But here’s the kicker: on closer inspection, it becomes apparent the product also includes a slice of cheese (and we’re not talking a coconut-based alternative).

It’s a problematic claim given that the term ’plant-based’ has become near synonymous with ‘suitable for vegans’. Tesco’s director of plant-based innovation Derek Sarno is staunchly vegan and includes no animal products in his Wicked Kitchen line. Plant Based News is a news platform that promotes all things vegan, and steers well clear of any endorsement of meat, eggs or dairy. Brands such as Princes, Higgidy and Boursin also use their own ‘plant-based’ labels to describe entirely vegan products.

So it’s no surprise that many consumers see the two terms as interchangeable. An Instagram poll conducted by The Grocer revealed that 227 of the 740 respondents (31%) believed plant-based and vegan were synonymous. Only 14% believed the same could be said for ‘vegetarian’.

All of which has seen Rustlers’ vegetarian ’plant-based’ burger cause a stir. Some branded the leaf label misleading. Others went further. In a since deleted social media thread, one user accused the brand of greenwashing by jumping on the eco credentials of the vegan movement.

One disgruntled member of Facebook group Vegan Food UK even called the plant-based label on the Meatless Maverick burger ’dangerous’  –  specifically for people with allergies, who might pick up the product expecting a plant-based product to be dairy-free.

Rustlers hasn’t technically done anything wrong. The term ‘plant-based’ is unregulated in the UK, leaving it open to interpretation.

The brand says: ”The Meatless Maverick is certified vegetarian, which is communicated on the pack along with our description of Meatless Maverick as a ‘plant-based’ classic burger with cheese and our signature sauce.”

It’s a different story in the US, where the Plant Based Foods Association offers a ‘certified plant based’ seal only open to products that are entirely free from animal ingredients and vegan-friendly. “The most important thing to understand is that for PBFA, ‘plant-based’ means 100% free from animal ingredients,” it says. “We make no exceptions to this rule.”

In fact, the difference for the PBFA is that vegan certifications could apply to non-food items, whereas it exclusively focuses on food products – specifically plant-based meat, egg and dairy alternatives.

The latest confusion over the Rustlers burger suggests it’s time for a more clear-cut definition in the UK, too. The simplest being that plant-based should equate to vegan. But in that case, it won’t leave any room for a cheese slice.