Temporary victory for plant-based meat producers
The plant-based food sector is celebrating a temporary win after urgent legal efforts by the CGCSA at the Johannesburg High Court today proved successful in halting product seizures.
The legal efforts by the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa (CGCSA) aimed to prevent the Food Safety Agency (FSA) from actioning the seizure of thousands of plant-based meat alternatives from retailers across the country for using product terms such as “burger”, “nugget”, and “sausage”. Seizures were scheduled to take place from 22 August 2022.
This ruling prohibits the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) and its designated assignee, FSA, from seizing any plant-based meat alternatives they deemed to be in breach of Regulation 1283 of the Agricultural Product Standards Act 199 of 1990, “the APS Act”. The legal efforts followed a letter sent out by the FSA on 16 August indicating that, as of 22 August, the agency “will seize any meat analogue products presented for sale in SA, which are using the product names prescribed for processed meat products in terms … of the Agricultural Product Standards Act”.
The action on behalf of the plant-based food industry is supported by local food awareness organisation ProVeg South Africa, the local branch of ProVeg International, and several of its stakeholders in the plant-based food sector. ProVeg has also been in discussion with their legal support at Lawtons Attorneys, who have also offered assistance to the movement.
“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.
This matter 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. According to the regulation, the FSA is the designated assignee in charge of product seizures in terms of section 8 (“Seizures”) of the APS Act.
ProVeg South Africa and numerous businesses sought multiple industry-wide discussions with DALRRD and the FSA to halt seizures and develop new and appropriate legislation for plant-based meat alternatives. Unfortunately, industry-wide discussions have not been possible and all diplomatic efforts by the plant-based food industry have not led to amenable results.
The Agricultural Product Standards 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. 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.
It has therefore been both frustrating and concerning that DALRRD has chosen to direct the FSA 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. This after they acknowledged that the Regulations do not encompass plant-based meat alternatives, that the new regulations are necessary for such products, and without indicating which food-related terms would be suitable to use or not. DALRRD’s lack of engagement with stakeholders, who will be devastated by this decision, is also increasingly concerning.
Impact on the industry and stakeholders
The directive, if implemented, will have a devastating effect on industry and consumers. The impact will extend to:
- Economic – labels which are currently in the market and/or already paid for production processes, will have to change and the costs involved in that change will impact suppliers and ultimately consumers, who as you know are struggling under the weight of the impact of Covid-19, rising fuel costs, food price hikes, load shedding and unemployment.
- Job losses – various companies may have to reduce their workforce to cope with the abrupt and unforeseen costs of having to change labels.
- Reputation – the decision to seize products using names such as “Plant Based Bratwurst”, “Mushroom Biltong” and “Vegan Nuggets” may result in consumers and the public losing trust in the quality of meat analogues due to unexplained label changes
- Customer confusion – 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 specifically 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 South Africa has and will 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. ProVeg South Africa carries the interests of both plant-based manufacturers and consumers and will continue to be a public voice for both. We urge the government to fast-track the development of new regulations without any punitive measures on the plant-based sector in the interim.
Caption: Anusha Lakha, ProVeg South Africa Corporate Engagement and V-Label Coordinator, and Sarah Goldman, Head of Pro Bono and Citizenship at Lawtons Africa at the Johannesburg High Court.
Caption (right-hand photo): Meagan Ruthman, Candidate Attorney, and Prudence Moselakgomo, administrator, both at Lawtons Africa, with ProVeg South Africa Corporate Engagement and V-Label Coordinator, Anusha Lakha (middle).
For media inquiries, contact:
Arleen Nel, Communications Manager, ProVeg South Africa, [email protected].
For further legal information and comment, please contact:
Sarah Goldman, Head of Pro Bono and Citizenship, [email protected].
If you would prefer to receive quick updates on the matter via WhatsApp, email [email protected] with your WhatsApp contact details.
About ProVeg South Africa
ProVeg South Africa is the local branch of ProVeg International. ProVeg is an international food awareness organisation working to transform the global food system by replacing conventional animal-based products with plant-based and cultured alternatives.
ProVeg works with international decision-making bodies, governments, food producers, investors, the media, and the general public to help the world transition to a society and economy that are less dependent on animal agriculture and more sustainable for humans, animals, and the planet.
ProVeg has permanent-observer status with the UNFCCC, is accredited for UNEA, and has received the United Nations’ Momentum for Change Award.