“Terms such as ‘nuggets’, ‘vegetarian sausages’, ‘ribs’, and ‘chicken-style’ are prescribed and reserved for processed meat products and must not be used for plant-based products”.

The rapid expansion of the meat and dairy alternatives market globally has been coupled with a push to introduce restrictions on the terminology such products can use.

Descriptions such as ‘veggie biltong,’ ‘plant-based meatballs’ and ‘vegan nuggets’ have been banned because they do not meet the definition of ‘processed meat’ under the South Africa’s Regulation No.R.1283.

The South African Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) has prohibited the use of meat-like names for plant-based alternatives.

The DALRRD letter addressed to “all processors, importers and retailers of meat analogues” and dated 22 June says that plant-based alternatives “must not use the product names prescribed and reserved for processed meat products since the scope of the above-mentioned regulation [Regulation No.R.1283] does not include meat analogues”.

The document adds that South Africa’s Food Safety Agency will seize any products contravening this.

The department said names such as “nuggets”, “vegetarian sausages”, “ribs”, and “chicken-style” are “prescribed and reserved for processed meat products” and must not be used by plant-based producers, and that the Food Safety Agency would seize any plant-based products using the terms.

“The classification, packing, and the making of processed meat products intended for sale in the Republic of South Africa are currently regulated in terms of Regulation No.R.1283 dated 04 October 2019.

‘In terms of the said regulation, “processed meat” is defined as meat that has undergone any action that substantially altered its original state (including, but not limited to, heating, smoking, curing, fermenting, maturing, drying, marinating, extraction or extrusion or any combination of all these processes) but excludes raw processed meat,” they said in a statement.

Meanwhile, in an emailed statement, the South African Meat Processors Association (SAMPA), said: “We are very pleased with the directive issued by DALRRD and strongly encourage the assignees to take swift and firm action against offenders”.

The statement continued: “SAMPA has been lobbying for action by the regulators for many years regarding misleading and incorrect labelling of meat analogues”.

“Our position has been consistent and clear, that product descriptions and product names must not ride on the back of existing animal protein products or be misleading to the consumer.”

SA’s plant-based companies hit back at regulations

Commenting on the development, pro-plant food lobbyist, ProVeg South Africa, said, “What is seemingly an interpretation of existing regulations, is in fact an extreme interpretation and is, essentially, creating new legislation. The measure also flies in the face of the government’s own plans to introduce legislation to tackle climate change.”

It pointed out that in the National Climate Change Response White Paper, the South African government admits that “land-based human activities, such as forest clearing and unsustainable agricultural practices, are not only increasing green house gas (GHG) emissions from these sources, but are also reducing the earth’s natural ability to absorb GHGs”.

“Yet, now, this very government’s Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development is aiming to disrupt a prosperous economic sector that could help South Africans mitigate their carbon footprint,” ProVeg said. “We really urge the government to overturn this regulation. At a time when countries are seeking ways to tackle climate change, we must do all we can to encourage a vibrant and innovative plant-based sector,” ProVeg said.