South Africa bans meaty names for vegan products: A ‘long awaited’ or ‘counterproductive’ measure?

By Flora Southey contact

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South Africa's DALRRD has imposed a ban on the use of 'meaty' terms for vegan products. GettyImages/ablokhin
South Africa's DALRRD has imposed a ban on the use of 'meaty' terms for vegan products. GettyImages/ablokhin

Related tags: South africa, meat-free, vegan

The decision to prohibit terminology such as ‘veggie biltong’ and ‘plant-based meatballs’ in South Africa is polarising. Those working in the meat sector are ‘very pleased’, encouraging ‘swift and firm action’ against offenders. Plant-based stakeholders, on the other hand, say the directive marks a ‘major step backwards’.

The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) in South Africa has imposed a ban on the use of 'meaty' terms to describe plant-based foods.

In correspondence addressed to processors, importers and retailers of meat analogues, dated 22 June, DALRRD described terminology such as ‘veggie biltong’, ‘plant based meatballs’, and ‘plant-based chicken-style strips’ as ‘illicit’.

The classification of packaging and marking of processed meat products are currently regulated under Regulation No.R.1283. In this context, processed meat is defined as “meat that has not undergone any action that substantially altered its original state…but includes raw processed meat”.

Meat analogues must not use the product names prescribed and reserved for processed meat products, DALRRD told relevant parties, adding that any meat analogue products doing so would be seized by the Food Safety Agency.

The move has drawn mixed responses from South Africa’s food industry.

‘Analogues must not piggyback on animal products’

The South African Meat Processors Association (SAMPA) has long been lobbying for this kind of action. It has taken ‘many years’ for DALRRD to prohibit ‘misleading’ and ‘incorrect labelling’ of meat analogues, SAMPA CEO Peter Gordon explained.

“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,” ​he told FoodNavigator.

“Without a doubt, the meat analogue sector has felt the only way it could gain traction in the market was to link their product names to the powerful and well-known established animal protein products so loved by consumers.”

This, Gordon stressed, is ‘unacceptable’ to SAMPA members, who have spent ‘many years and millions of South African rands’ on developing their brands.

“It surely stands to reason that any vegan/vegetarian/flexitarian (VVF) who wants to eat a pumpkin ball will want it named correctly? E.g., ‘Pumpkin Ball’ and not a ‘Meat Ball-style Pumpkin Ball.”

SAMPA has observed plant-based gain traction in recent years. “The meat industry is aware of the massive growth of the VFF market and we welcome the growth this offers producers and retailer in South Africa,” ​said Gordon.

Indeed, the selection of plant-based offerings is ‘huge’, according to the South African arm of ProVeg International, which aims to halve global consumption of animals by 2040. “From milk to eggs to meat, fish, and honey, vegan alternatives and substitutes are now available for nearly all animal-based foods,” ​noted the food awareness organisation.

vegan sausage Marzia Giacobbe
Meat analogue products have been piggybacking on the success of established animal protein products, SAMPA suggests. GettyImages/Marzia Giacobbe

But SAMPA wants the meat analogue sector to be able to grow with products that are ‘honestly labelled’ and sell ‘based on the products’ own merits’ to their target customer, and not by ‘riding on the shoulders’ of the meat, poultry, fish or dairy industries through the use of ‘misleading’ product descriptions.

“We are very pleased with the directive issued by DALLRD and strongly encourage the assignees to take swift and firm action against offenders,” ​said Gordon.

‘Plant-based consumers, not meat-eaters, risk confusion’

On the other side of this debate lie the makers of meat-free analogues.

In South Africa, Fry Family Foods has been making plant-based meat alternatives since the early 1990s. Its current range includes Chicken-Style Burgers, Pea Protein Mince, and Rice Protein & Chia Nuggets.

The family-owned business was acquired by LIVEKINDLY Collective in 2020, a company which boasts a plant-based stable including Oumph!, The No Meat Company, and The Dutch Weed Burger.

South Africa’s plant-based food stakeholders – including LIVEKINDLY’s biggest brand in South Africa, Fry’s – are opposed to DALRRD’s ban for several reasons, the first being related to the specific terms of South Africa’s regulation.

According to LIVEKINDLY, Regulation No.R.1283 does not actually apply to plant-based meat alternatives. As a result, the collective does not find the ban ‘reasonable’.

The regulations explicitly state that: “These regulations should not apply to the following foodstuffs: 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,” ​we were told.

veggie burger bernardbodo
Do 'veggie burgers' and 'vegan sausages' mislead consumers? GettyImages/bernardbodo

One of the main arguments against using ‘veggie’ terminology to describe meat products is that consumer could be misled into purchasing a plant-based product when they intended to buy meat.

LIVEKINDLY was quick to nip that argument in the bud. “Fry’s has been producing plant-based protein products for over 30 years from our factory in Durban, South Africa,” ​said Tammy Fry, co-founder of Fry Family Foods and Marketing Director of LIVEKINDLY Collective.

“At no point have we felt that our product names were confusing for consumers, and in fact, our product descriptions play an important role in helping out consumers understand how to use our products.

“Our consumers appreciate clear direct communication, and we feel strongly that if we cannot use product names like ‘burger’, ‘sausage’, ‘nugget’ or ‘mince’, that will create confusion for our consumers,” ​she told FoodNavigator.

A ‘major step backwards’ in addressing climate change

Others have raised concerns the new ban works in direct opposition to South Africa’s climate change agenda.

The decision to ‘discourage climate-friendly foods’ is a ‘major step backwards, according to ProVeg International. The non-profit believes the measure flies in the face of the Government’s plans to introduce legislation to tackle climate change.

“Regulation such as this is exactly what we don’t need when the world’s scientists are telling us we urgently need to reduce our meat consumption to help brake dangerous global warming,” ​said Donovan Will, Country Director at ProVeg South Africa.

According to researchers, global greenhouse gas emissions from animal-based foods are twice those from plant-based foods. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report also confirms that the world needs to shift more to a plant-based diet to keep within the 1.5 Celsius global warming limit set by the 2015 Paris Agreement.

LIVEKINDLY agrees wholeheartedly. “We have so much data now that shows the undeniable link between animal agriculture and climate change,” ​Fry told this publication.

“Plant-based foods play a vital role in making our food systems more sustainable. Enforcing a discussion about naming conventions not only undermines the important work South African meat analogue manufacturers are doing in the fight against climate change, but it also makes no sense in terms of how many other governments and food regulators from around the world are responding to the data.”

Fry is convinced the ‘good’ that comes from plant-based burgers, mince or nuggets ‘drastically’ outweighs the concerns of the meat industry stakeholders.

“The impact of recalling, relabelling, and repackaging would be counterproductive, at a time when the South African Government should really be supporting lobal business growth rather than making it harder for them to operate.”

Back in 2020, the European Parliament voted on an amendment proposing to ban ‘meaty’ terms for vegan products.

Amendment 165 proposed to prohibit terms such as ‘burger’, ‘sausage’, ‘steak’ or ‘escalope’ for vegetarian and vegan alternatives. The Parliament voted for these terms to be retained for use with meat-free alternatives.

On the same day, a vote to decide when terms such as ‘almond milk’ and ‘vegan cheese’, as well as ‘yogurt-style’ and ‘cheese alternative’ for dairy-free products, should be outlawed. The Parliament voted in favour. More on the outcomes can be found here​.

Related topics: Ingredients