SOUTH AFRICA – South Africa based food awareness organisation ProVeg South Africa, the local branch of ProVeg International, and several of its stakeholders in the plant-based food sector have welcomed the ruling by the Johannesburg High Court, on halting seizures of plant-based meat alternatives from retailers across the country for adopting the identity of their traditional counterparts.

The legal efforts, termed as temporary victory, follows a June directive from DALRRD to processors, importers and retailers of plant-based meat alternatives giving them only 30 business days to remove their products from shelves for relabelling or face seizures.

The Department describes the use of phrases such as “mushroom biltong”, “plant-based meatballs” and “vegan nuggets” as “illicit” because the products do not meet the definition of “processed meat” under the country’s Regulation No.R.1283.

Other terms on the black list include vegan veggie biltong, egan BBQ ribs, plant-based bratwurst, Chorizo and red pepper vegetarian sausages and pant-based chicken-style strips.

According to the regulation, the Food Safety Agency (FSA) is the designated assignee in charge of product seizures in terms of section 8 (“Seizures”) of the Agricultural Product Standards Act.

The APS Act encompass the classification, packing and marking of processed meat products intended for sale in South Africa and were promulgated in 2019.

However, when these regulations were promulgated, it was decided then that plant-based meat alternatives (also referred to as meat analogues or meat analogue products) were to be excluded and would be dealt with differently than processed meats.

Section 2(2)(c) of the regulation specifically states that “[t]hese regulations shall not apply to . . . (c) Meat analogue products or non-meat-based products that in general appearance, presentation and intended use correspond to processed meat products (e.g., vegan or vegetarian type processed products).’’

Therefore, plant-based meat alternatives are not currently covered by legislation and are also excluded from the scope of the processed meat regulations.

ProVeg advocates for regulations for meat alternatives

The action on behalf of the plant-based food industry has been hailed by the stakeholders however, it is key for the battle of identity to be put to bed as the suggested ban might impose added cost to the processors with the change in labels.

There is also fear of job losses as various companies may have to reduce their workforce to cope with the abrupt and unforeseen costs of having to change labels.

Also, the decision to seize products may result in consumers and the public losing trust in the quality of meat analogues due to unexplained label changes. This might further bring consumer confusion as they are already conversant with the terms already in use.

 ProVeg South Africa seeks to continue to opt for non-legal routes to ensure that new and appropriate regulations are developed for plant-based meat alternatives that are approved and carry the interests of the plant-based food industry, DALRRD and the meat and processed meat industries.

“Although we welcome the decision by the court, we would like to reiterate our call for further dialogue as we still believe that this matter should be settled through discussion between the plant-based food industry, DALLRD and the meat industry,” Donovan Will, ProVeg South Africa Country Director, said.

The representation body has in the previous past sought multiple industry-wide discussions with DALRRD and the FSA to develop new and appropriate legislation for plant-based meat alternatives.

In April this year, things seemed to be heading in the right direction when DALRRD issued a directive indicating that the Executive Officer would commence with “the development of new regulation for meat analogue products”.

This followed engagements with various stakeholders, of which 85% (the majority of the stakeholders) were in favour of new regulations being developed for meat analogue products.

Sadly, after that last communication, no further information was shared. According to ProVeg’s knowledge, this process has not started despite the eagerness of businesses and organisations in the plant-based meat alternative sector to formulate new and appropriate regulations.

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