The Verdict on Vegan Vocabulary: Clarity or Confusion?

The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) released a controversial communique on Wednesday, 22 June 2022, which has turned up the heat and caused quite a stir amongst the various stakeholders in the meat analogue industry. This communique dealt with the illicit use of product names exclusively prescribed for processed meat products in terms of the R1283 Processed Meat Product Regulations which were published in October 2019. DALRRD has stated vehemently that “meat analogues must not use the product names prescribed and reserved for processed meat products since the scope of R1283 does not include meat analogues”.

They made specific mention of product names and descriptions such as “vegan veggie biltong”, “mushroom biltong”, “plant-based meatballs”, “vegan nuggets”, “vegan BBQ ribs”, “plant-based bratwurst”, “chorizo and red pepper vegetarian sausages” and “plant-based chicken-style strips” when referring to examples of the types of names which were not permitted to be used on the labels of meat analogues/vegan alternative products. The R1283 Regulations define “processed meat” 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 (surface application), extraction or extrusion or any combination of all these processes), but excludes raw processed meat” and these terms are, as far as DALRRD is concerned, reserved for products which fall into this definition.

DALRRD has also stated that the assignee designated for the inspection of processed meats, the Food Safety Agency (Pty) Ltd, would be conducting seizures in terms of their powers afforded to them in Section 8 of the APS Act should they find meat analogue products with such prohibited naming conventions on the shelves.

Subsequent to the communique, panic struck and stakeholders requested for a clarification session in which to pose their urgent queries. In this session which was hosted on Friday, 24 June 2022, the following issues were made clear by Mr Billy Makhafola and Mr Theo van Rensburg:

  1. The communique’s role is not to make new rules but merely to clarify the way in which the R1283 Regulation should be interpreted with specific relation to the tables which contain the various class designations of processed meat products as well as Regulation 3 which restricted the use of these names on products which were not processed meat products;
  2. Stakeholders already had the opportunity to comment on this regulation during the consultation process;
  3. Terms such as “burgers”; “sausages” and “nuggets” are indeed reserved names for processed meat products as per R1283;
  4. Cultured meat products cannot be classified as meat as they fall outside the definition of processed meat products and would therefore be prohibited in terms of the R1283 Regulations;
  5. Seized meat analogue products would not be destroyed and the manufacturers would be given the opportunity to relabel their products so as to comply;
  6. Due to the high interest as well as differing of opinions with industry, DALRRD will be delaying the seizure of meat analogue products which use any of the reserved product names for a period of 30 days; and
  7. In the meantime, the Assignee will be conducting an environmental scan to determine how widespread the sale of meat analogue products using names prescribed for processed meat products is.

The session was met with great frustration and shock by the various retailers, manufacturers and organisations who were opposed to this interpretation. Attendees pleaded that this decision lacked fairness towards the vegan/vegetarian alternative producers, that this was not in line with international trends as well as the fact that this will have dire economic and financial implications on the various companies who produce these products and now have to spend thousands (if not millions) to relabel their products.

Apart from the above, Regulation 2(2)(c) was specifically brought up as it deals with the scope of the R1283 Regulations and states that “these regulations shall not apply to 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)”. Some attendees, who were in fact part of the consultation process prior to the publication of the Regulation, referred to this section due to the fact that they understood the following:

  1. it was included in the R1283 so as to clarify that the meat analogue producers did not have to consult the regulation in relation to their own products; and
  2. R1283 did not apply to their meat analogue products as new regulations were in the process of being drafted which were going to deal with these types of products.

These points were met with the same response from DALRRD - that the restrictions in Regulation 3 dealt with this very issue.

Despite the confusion and heated debate between the Department and industry, one thing was clear and that was that the intention behind R1283’s application and interpretation could not be agreed upon. DALRRD sent out a subsequent communication on Monday, 27 June 2022, which has blurred the situation even further. They have now stated that, besides for the 30 day period in which the Assignee is to conduct an extensive market survey and delay seizure, the inspectors of the Assignee will also be issuing directions to meat analogue producers during this time in order for them to rectify the incorrect product names/descriptions and allowing them a period of 30 days to do so.

Industry now waits with bated breath for such directions as well as further feedback with regard to the outcome of DALRRD and the Assignee’s survey after their environmental scan. It is important for the industry to take note that if a directive is issued, it provides an opportunity to appeal in terms of the Appeal Regulations. However, the appeal must be lodged within 10 days and no extensions are possible.

Some would say that it appears that DALRRD is clamping down on vegan products and labelling, especially due to the fact that earlier in the year a similar communique on vegan egg products was also released. It is important to note that legal enforcement is essential in a functional legislative and judicial system. However, a balance must be struck between producers who take advantage of consumers through misleading labelling practices and the strict interpretation of a regulation which unfairly discriminates against vegan products.

For more information, please contact the writers at Hahn & Hahn Attorneys, specialists in Consumer and Food Law.



Contact details:

Janusz Luterek

Janet Tomkow-Coetzer

Isabella Mazzone

Tel:     012 342 1774

Cell:    078 115 8025

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