Johannesburg High Court upholds sale of plant-based meat alternatives, overturning previous seizure decision

More and more people are choosing to eat more plant-based meals and follow flexitarian diets. Picture: Fuzzy Rescue/Pexels

More and more people are choosing to eat more plant-based meals and follow flexitarian diets. Picture: Fuzzy Rescue/Pexels

Published Apr 11, 2024


The South African government's decision to forbid plant-based foods from using names that sound like meat has sparked outrage among makers of alternative meat.

The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) announced on June 22, last year, that names such as "veggie biltong", “plant-based meatballs”, and "vegan nuggets" won't be allowed anymore.

According to the department, these names don't match the definition of "processed meat" according to the country's guidelines. It argues the names could be confusing for consumers.

In a notice sent to companies involved in making, importing, and selling meat alternatives, the government said these products cannot have names typically used for meat items.

Furthermore, the notice demanded that the Food Safety Agency (FSA) remove any plant-based products with such names from stores.

More and more people are choosing to eat more plant-based meals and follow flexitarian diets. Picture: Valeria Boltneva/Pexels

This move follows the temporary court decision in 2022 designed to stop the removal of alt-meat products from stores.

However, a recent decision by the Johannesburg High Court has changed this, now allowing these products to stay on shelves for South African buyers, despite ongoing debates over their naming.

The government wanted to ban these products from using names like “nugget”, “burger”, “patty”, and “sausage” because it believed they could confuse shoppers into thinking they were buying real meat.

This move sparked controversy as it threatened to pull popular plant-based products from supermarket shelves.

In response, the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa (CGCSA) quickly stepped in.

They managed to get a court order to stop the FSA from removing these items, arguing that customers were not being misled. This legal move was only a temporary solution, pending a final decision on the matter.

This issue involved the FSA, the executive officer for Agricultural Product Standards, and the Minister of the Department of Land Reform and Rural Development.

They argued that using traditional meat product names for plant-based alternatives was misleading and wanted to ban these names and remove them from stores.

Finally, after two years of debate and legal wrangling, a decision has been made on how these products can be labelled, ending a significant chapter in the debate over how we name and understand plant-based foods in South Africa.

Welcoming the decision to set aside the Department’s directive, CGCSA said: “It is a collective victory for the meat analogue sector, which is a growing source for alternative plant-based food products, as well as a source of employment throughout the value chain.”

Following the ruling, Donovan Will, the director of ProVeg South Africa, voiced his approval of the decision, acknowledging the CGCSA’s efforts.

“We appreciate the efforts by the CGCSA,” said Will. He is hopeful this development will prompt the DALRRD to engage more with plant-based food representatives.

Will highlighted the numerous advantages of adopting a plant-rich diet, including improved personal health, environmental benefits, reduced carbon emissions and enhanced global food security.

He expressed ProVeg's eagerness to collaborate with the South African government to maximise the benefits of plant-based products for the country.

Recognising that the plant-based meat alternative industry is relatively new and can be somewhat puzzling, Will mentioned the challenges in regulating such an emerging sector, especially within the food and agriculture industry.

Despite these challenges, Will sees a significant opportunity.

“With the clear benefits in mind, we see this as a chance to use our global expertise to help both businesses and the government. We want to ensure these products are regulated wisely, helping the industry grow.

“This isn't just about offering healthier options but also about creating jobs,” he added.

“Transitioning to a plant-based diet has proven benefits. There’s a clearly established need for these products and while becoming more numerous and widespread in South Africa, they shouldn’t be denied to willing, informed consumers who consciously select these in stores.”