SA plant-based food producers welcome temporary halt of meat analogue seizures

SOUTH AFRICA – South Africa based food awareness organisation ProVeg South Africa, has welcomed the ruling by the Johannesburg High Court, on extending the prohibition period in regards to halting seizures of plant-based meat alternatives from retailers across the country, for adopting the identity of their traditional counterparts.

In August, the Johannesburg High Court, granted an interim interdict in favour of the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa’s members which prohibited the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) and its designated assignee, the Food Safety Agency from carrying out the seizure of meat analogue products from retail outlets around the country.

“We welcome the extension of the interdict as we continue to engage with all relevant stakeholders to work together to formulate regulations applicable to meat analogue products. This is imperative to ensure regulatory certainty in the plant-based sector,” stated ProVeg South Africa in an email sent to Food Business Africa.

The legal efforts which extended the prohibition period to May 2023, 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.

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.

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