Debate rages on meat alternatives

The debate on the labelling of food containing meat alternatives has taken off in South Africa.

As we reported last month the government’s directorate of food safety and quality assurance issued a communique banning what it called “meat analogues” from being called anything associated with meat. Labels such as “mushroom biltong”, “plant-based meatballs” and “vegan nuggets” must be changed or the products removed from supermarket shelves.

Product names for processed meats are reserved for processed meat. Plant-based products cannot therefore be labelled as burgers, sausages or strips, and producers have 30 days to change them.

The meat industry is generally pleased, saying some labels can confuse customers, but the fast-growing plant-based food sector is incensed as they face costs which could run into tens of millions. The sector has expanded rapidly in recent years, and jobs are at risk, particularly in small family-run businesses.

There is now a legal debate on the validity of the new directive, and the matter could well end up in court.