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Vegan Cheese Ban: Should UK consumers be worried about a similar action here?

Vegan Cheese Ban: Should UK consumers be worried about a similar action here?

Following news of Turkey’s vegan cheese ban and a similar ban on meat-like terms on plant-based products in South Africa, we turn to our regulatory experts to break down the myths and misconceptions of the decision, and what it means for brands and innovators in this arena.

Vegan Cheese Ban

In July, the Turkish government announced a ban on the production and sale of vegan cheese in a move that has triggered outrage in the plant and animal advocate community. It’s the latest instance of countries implementing restrictive plant-based food legislation, with South Africa’s Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) also announcing a ban of meat-like terms on plant-based products.

 

What’s happening in Turkey?

Under the new law, plant-based cheese products must not mimic traditional cheese, including its appearance and marketing styles. However, legislation wording has been deemed unclear by the Vegan Association in Turkey (TVD) which is campaigning against the ruling.

Existing legislation had previously outlawed the use of the term “cheese” to describe products that are dairy-free under the pretext that it could confuse and mislead consumers.

While Turkey joins other countries such as the EU, France, and South Africa in imposing prohibitive plant-based legislation on terminology and label wording, it’s the first country to ban elements of the production process.

This has meant domestic producers can no longer sell vegan cheese, and manufacturing facilities are now subject to inspections.

In addition, Turkey’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry states that “products that give the impression of cheese cannot be produced using vegetable oil or other food ingredients.”

Vacuum packaging, according to the authorities, has also been prohibited due to the possibility it can be misinterpreted as traditional cheese.

 

How has the ban been received by groups and consumers?

The ban has been strongly opposed by the plant-based community.

The Vegan Association of Turkey (TVD) has since filed a lawsuit against the ministry in a bid to overturn the ban in Article 9/1, citing unclear criteria and suggesting it imposes on consumers’ freedom of choice, as well as undermining manufacturing and trade.

According to TVD, “the fact that the necessary clarification has not been made even about the similarity criteria, which is the basis of the said ban, creates an open-ended area of pressure and action for the inspectors/enforcement operating in this field.”

The amendment to the Turkish Food Codex Regulation indicates that any product that is “considered to resemble dairy cheese but does not even contain the word cheese in its name” could be prohibited unreservedly. However, the campaigners say there is no clarification on what the “similarity criteria” means.

 

Will vegan cheese completely disappear in Turkey?

Some consumers and manufacturers are put out by the ban, and some have understood the decision to mean that vegan cheese alternatives will no longer exist in the country – although that’s not completely true.

The ban mostly relates to the terminology of plant-based products and the potential mimicking of traditional cheese, and while there are elements in the production process itself that are impacted, there is still hope for vegan cheese alternatives in Turkey.

It appears as though the ban has been put in place to put a stop to alternatives appearing to be the “real thing,” and while it does put up even more barriers for manufacturers and innovators in this category, it doesn’t necessarily mean that products will have to scrapped altogether.

Parts of the production process may have to be tweaked to remain in line with regulations, but perhaps the biggest challenge is how brands can then market and sell to consumers in a way that is completely separate from traditional cheese.

 

Is it likely a new food category will launch?

It’s certainly a challenge for the industry, but with Turkey being just one of the latest countries to impose restrictions, it may be time for the sector as a whole to consider how they can overcome the barriers they now face – potentially even the launch of a brand new product category.

Plant-based is a new category that was born out of regulatory restrictions and can be used for products like vegan cheese if they are not permitted, from a regulatory perspective, to be called or classed as cheese.

Joanna Becker-Hawkins, Senior Regulatory Advisor at Ashbury said, “If the Turkish implementation of a complete ban of products which mimic traditional cheese in terms of look and taste and are labelled ‘vegan cheese,’ it could be the result of two things. Either the Government has received extreme lobbying from its dairy industry, which we know plant-based cheeses are a huge disruptor to that sector, or the legislation is poorly worded and unclear. The latter might mean that the legislation actually implies something different but the authorities are enforcing it in a different way than intended.

Unless the Turkish authorities clarify the meaning behind the new regulatory rules, then it’s going to be really hard for brands to put their ‘vegan cheese’ on the market without it being deemed such. Even renaming it will not protect it from the authorities as it will probably still mimic the look and taste of traditional cheese, which is not what consumers are looking for.

And, until the legalities of this law are clarified, it could majorly squash innovation in the plant-based sector.”

Only time will tell.

If you are a manufacturer or brand looking to launch or expand in the plant-based market, or in countries where similar bans have or may come into force, and aren’t quite sure where it leaves you, do get in touch with a member of our team – we’d be happy to help.

Caitlin Stewart, Marketing Manager

My background in Food Science and Marketing means I have a unique combination of commercial creativity and technical food manufacturing experience. My ambition is to bring clarity to the complex world of compliance through the simple and eye-catching communication of Ashbury's services.

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