Politics & Law

Johannesburg High Court Overturns Seizure of Meat Alternatives in South Africa

The Johannesburg High Court has overturned the planned seizure of plant-based meat alternatives marketed using “meat-like” terms in South Africa. These products will now remain permanently available in the country.

South Africa’s Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) first banned the use of meat-like terms on plant-based product labels in June 2022, arguing that it was misleading to consumers. The department instructed the Food Safety Agency to seize any non-compliant products.

However, plant-based advocates took the case to the Johannesburg High Court, successfully arguing that plant-based meat alternatives were not covered by legislation relating to the classification and labelling of processed meats. The court temporarily halted the planned seizure of the products in August 2022.

Almost a year later, the seizure was halted again for an indefinite period, following a victory in court for the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa (CGCSA). Following a review, the decision to seize the meat alternatives has been overturned altogether, with the court concluding that it is not legally enforceable.

ProVeg South Africa at Johannesburg High Court
Anusha Lakha, ProVeg South Africa Corporate Engagement and V-Label Coordinator, and Sarah Goldman, Head of Pro Bono and Citizenship at Lawtons Africa at the Johannesburg High Court.

“Complicated and challenging”

Similar news has been seen elsewhere in the world in recent months; the French Conseil D’Etat has just suspended a decree restricting the labelling of plant-based meat in the country, while Italy — which passed a similar ban in November — said in February that it was open to reconsidering the restrictions. In January, Belgium ended its so-called “veggie war”, concluding that plant-based meat alternatives could continue to use terms such as “burger” and “steak”.

The CGCSA says the court ruling in South Africa is a collective victory for the meat alternatives sector, which is “a source of employment throughout the value chain”. Food awareness organisation ProVeg has also welcomed the decision.

“We appreciate the efforts by the CGCSA and we hope that this latest development encourages DALRRD to meet with stakeholders in the plant-based space to discuss the issue further,” said ProVeg South Africa director Donovan Will.

He added, “Plant-based meat alternatives is still a young industry and it’s understandable that there is nuance and perhaps some confusion about it. Regulating a new industry can be complicated and challenging, particularly as it slots into the food and agriculture sector, but given the undeniable benefits ProVeg sees this as an opportunity to leverage our international expertise and work with businesses and the government to ensure the successful and sensible regulation of these products and grow the industry as a bedrock for healthier alternatives and a job provider.”

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