Manufacturers and suppliers of plant-based meat alternatives have received some reprieve following the granting of an urgent interdict to prevent the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development from seizing their products.
The Consumer Goods Council says it was “forced” to approach the courts for an urgent interdict since the Food Safety Agency (on behalf of the department) was about to start confiscating the food from Monday.
The council said in a statement it will continue with legal action to overturn the decision to arbitrarily seize meat analogue products.
“It is imperative that all stakeholders work together to formulate regulations applicable to meat analogue products so as to ensure that no unauthorised action is taken against any of its members in the plant-based sector,” it said.
In terms of the current regulations the classification, packing and marking of processed meat products specifically exclude “meat analogue products or non-meat based products that in general appearance, presentation and intended use correspond to processed meat products such as 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, says Donovan Will, ProVeg South Africa country director.
He earlier said there has been consensus from all the stakeholders that it is necessary to develop separate regulations that are specifically aimed at the plant-based food industry.
The department is of the view that the current labelling used by plant-based meat manufacturers is misleading.
It wants all plant-based products using the words ‘burger’, ‘nugget’, ‘sausage’ or ‘patties’ to be taken off store shelves. Industry players earlier called the move irrational, illogical and damaging to a fast-growing industry.
In a statement following the court’s decision to grant the urgent interdict, Will says ProVeg still believes the matter should be settled through discussion between the plant-based food industry, the department and the meat industry.
Talks regarding new regulations for the plant-based meat alternative industry did start at the end of last year and the majority of industry players agreed to having separate regulations.
In April this year the department said it would commence with “the development of new regulation[s] for meat analogue products”. However, the industry received no further information on the process, says Will.
In June this year the department threatened to enforce the regulations for processed meat on plant-based products.
Frustrating and concerning
“It has therefore been both frustrating and concerning that the department has chosen to direct the Food Safety Agency to continue with the proposed seizure of products, clearly not included in Regulation 1283, instead of developing the necessary new regulations for meat analogue products,” says Will.
“The [department’s] lack of engagement with stakeholders, who will be devastated by this decision, is also increasingly concerning.”
ProVeg says if the directive is implemented it will have a severe economic impact on producers because of the cost to change packaging and labelling that is already in the production process.
It foresees potential job losses because of companies having to cope with the “abrupt and unforeseen” costs of having to change labels.
In addition, says Will: “If manufacturers are prohibited from using food-related terms commonly used and understood by consumers to market their products, consumers will be left confused and frustrated.”
Many consumers are looking for products that mimic animal products because they grew up eating them and still enjoy the taste. “If a consumer is looking for a vegetarian burger that mimics a beef burger it will be very confusing if the product cannot indicate that it is beef-style and cannot use the word ‘burger’.”
ProVeg says it prefers non-legal routes to ensure that new and appropriate regulations are developed for plant-based meat alternatives, but has been in discussions with a law firm for assistance.