Politics & Law

South Korea Prohibits Terms Such as “Beef” or “Pork” on Plant-Based Product Labels

At the end of November, South Korea’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) published labeling guidance for plant-based products, prohibiting the use of animal food names such as “beef,” “pork,” “milk,” or “egg” to avoid confusion with traditional animal products, reports The National Law Review.

However, the new rules do permit the use of words that describe the nature of the product or the name of the substituted raw material. So, in this case, ‘plant-based bulgogi’ or ‘bulgogi made from soybeans’ are allowed. To clarify, our understanding is that the prohibition concerns the names of the meat themselves, beef, chicken, or tuna for example. However, descriptive terms like “plant-based chunks” are permitted as are the titles of dishes, with the name of the substituting ingredient. So, ‘vegan egg’ is not allowed, but ‘plant-based omelet’ would be permitted.

Throughout 2023, South Korea’s government has been actively setting regulatory standards and labeling rules for alternative protein products as it becomes more active in promoting a change in the food system. These new rules might come as a surprise to many, since only a few months ago, South Korea introduced a national plan to encourage the adoption of plant-based foods.

Unlimeat Korean BBQ_Bulgogi pack shot

Aside from South Korea, governments in Poland, France, and Italy state that consumers are confused by current plant-based labels. At least, that is the reasoning given for their restrictions; others might argue that such legislations is pushed by meat and dairy lobbies in order to protect their wares.

Other new regulations

The MFDS has also established standards for products labeled as alternative proteins under the Korean Food Code, which will become effective in January 2024. According to the new standards, alternative protein products are made using vegetables, microorganisms, edible insects, and cell cultures instead of animal ingredients with a shape, taste, and texture similar to conventional animal products. The code also sets manufacturing and technical specifications for these products.

Dongwon F&B My Plant plant-based canned tuna
Dongwon F&B / My Plant

Regarding cell-cultured products, last May, the MFDS revised the Food Sanitation Act to include these novel foods under “Temporary Standards” confirming a regulatory framework for approving cell-cultured foods in the country. Later in October, the government proposed detailed dossier requirements for these foods, covering data on the origin of cells, manufacturing process, and safety. 

The dossier requirements for cell-cultured foods are comprehensive, requiring a wide range of information to ensure a thorough safety assessment. This has raised concerns in the cell ag industry, arguing that dossiers will take too long to prepare and gain approval. 

Cultivated food companies in the country include CellMEAT, SeaWith, TissenBioFarm, Simple Planet, and CellQua.

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