- In August last year, the Food Safety Agency seized vegan products that resembled meat products from retail stores.
- The high court temporarily halted the seizing of plant-based products last year, and the parties are set to argue before court again in May before a final judgment is delivered.
- Vegan company Fry Family Food Corporation has also instituted its own appeal process against the Red Meat Industry Forum.
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The red meat industry and vegan food companies are gearing up to continue their battle this year over the naming of plant-based foods, and a crucial court ruling on the saga is on the horizon.
Both industries are awaiting legal clarification on whether plant-based foods that resemble meat products are in violation of existing legislation and should be renamed or relabelled.
In August last year, the Food Safety Agency seized vegan products that resembled meat products from retail stores.
The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development declared that plant-based labels that included phrases linked to meat including "meat substitute, mock meat, faux meat and imitation" were banned according to Government Gazette regulations published in 2019.
As reported by Business Insider, an interdict awarded by the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg temporarily halted the seizing of plant-based products in August last year. The parties are set to argue before the high court again in May before a final judgment is delivered.
Vegan company Fry Family Food Corporation has also instituted its own appeal process against the Red Meat Industry Forum. Preparation for the appeal process will be completed in February, according to spokesperson Genevive Cutts.
"We look forward to working with all parties in order to further align our industry with international standards, mitigate technical barriers to trade for South African products and provide more options to meet all dietary requirements," Cutts said.
Fry Family Foods believes that it has a strong legal position and that its product names are not in contravention of the regulations. Rather, they help consumers to understand how to incorporate plant-based products into their meals, says Cutts.
However, Peter Gordon, group chief executive officer at South African Meat Processors Association (SAMPA), has said vegan companies must remain "honest" with their labelling.
"Product labelling must be honest and not be misleading. If a vegan company says that its product approximates chicken, that is false and misleading labelling," he said in an interview with News24.
Gordon says that there also needs to be legal considerations made when labelling plant-based foods according to meat products. For example, the name "boerewors" is protected under legislation and follows its own specific regulations, he says.
According to Gordon, there has always been commercial latitude granted for relabelling products and it is normal to apply for dispensation for old packaging. He added that the red meat industry would like the matter to be settled in the first round of arguments at the high court.
Despite the grey area, companies such as Woolworths have adhered to the position of the department, and have already changed the labelling of vegan foods.
"We are updating our product labels to conform with the anticipated regulatory requirements regarding vegan products using meaty names," the company told News24.