Balanced stance can serve as model for complex issue of plant-based food terminology

The debate over what to call plant-based foods continues globally as regulatory bodies try to find a balance between consumer interests and industry demands

Plant-based foods have become increasingly popular worldwide due to concerns about health, the environment, and ethics. However, the use of traditional meat and dairy terminology for these products has sparked controversy. Different countries are struggling to create labelling regulations that are fair to both consumers and producers. The debate over what to call plant-based foods continues globally as regulatory bodies try to find a balance between consumer interests and industry demands.

Sanjay Sethi, Executive Director of the Plant-Based Food Industry Association, stated, “The demand for plant-based meats, such as burger patties, sausages, and chicken nuggets, is rapidly increasing. In India, the domestic market for plant-based meat is projected to grow from $30-40 million to $500 million. Likewise, the plant-based dairy market is expected to grow from $21 million to $64 million, with a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 21 per cent.”

“In South Africa, the Johannesburg High Court ruled in favour of using “meat-like” terms to market plant-based meat alternatives, overturning a previous ban by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development. Meanwhile, France, Italy, and some U.S. states have restricted terms like “steak,” “fillet,” and “sausage” for plant-based alternatives, while a bill in the U.S. seeks to further limit meat-related wording for these products. These measures aim to protect traditional meat producers and prevent consumer confusion but create challenges for plant-based producers and marketers.”

“On the other hand, countries like Australia, New Zealand, and several in Europe have taken a more flexible approach, allowing the use of traditional meat terminology for plant-based products as long as the labelling is clear and not misleading. However, they have imposed restrictions on dairy terminology, prohibiting terms like “milk,” “butter,” and “cheese” for non-dairy alternatives. This balanced approach aims to support consumer understanding without stifling innovation,” Sethi said.

Consumers worldwide are becoming increasingly conscious of their food habits and the environmental impacts of their choices, leading to the adoption of sustainable food options. Plant-based meat products are revolutionising the food industry globally. However, governments around the world have differing views on plant-based food.


Singapore is the first country to introduce cultivated meat. The Singapore Food Agency (SFA) approved the sale of cultivated meat to the US-based start-up Eat Just. SFA was the first authority in the world to approve the sale of cultivated meat.


Last year, Denmark’s government introduced an action plan for plant-based meat to promote the production and consumption of plant-based products. The plan includes research and development of climate-friendly products, education, influencing dietary habits, production and processing, and promoting imports and exports of plant-based products.


The Netherlands aims to increase the uptake of plant-based alternatives through non-tech solutions such as packaging plant-based products similarly to standard ones. The food ingredients sector is also shifting to alternative plant-based proteins in food production, such as ‘animal-free’ dairy ingredients ß-lactoglobulin and lactoferrin. This strategy aligns with the Netherlands’ goal to accelerate the switch to plant-based proteins to help meet its 2030 climate targets. In its strategy update in June 2022, the Netherlands outlined a 50-50 goal ratio of animal to vegetable proteins across the Dutch diet. Additionally, protein-rich raw materials in Dutch animal feed must mostly come from the EU by 2025, rather than third countries. In February 2023, a public-private partnership launched a master plan for the protein transition in response to slow progress, aiming to double the consumption of legumes in the Netherlands by 2030.


The UAE recognises that plant-based meat generates 30 to 90 per cent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than conventional meat and contributes to a more sustainable food supply. The launch of plant-based meat alternatives was attended by the Minister of MOCCAE to support the sector’s contributions to mitigating climate change. Last year, the start-up company Switch Foods launched the first state-of-the-art, exclusive plant-based meat production facility in Abu Dhabi. This initiative aligns with the UAE’s National Food Security Strategy 2051, which aims to promote food security through sustainable innovations and diversified food products.


The German government has allocated $38 million in the 2024 budget for promoting plant-based protein, encouraging the manufacturing and consumption of alternative proteins, and supporting a switch to plant-based agriculture. The government also plans to open a Proteins of the Future centre.


India has been closely following global trends in plant-based options. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) oversees food labelling, restricting the use of dairy terminology. Currently, the use of the term “milk” is permitted only for coconut milk, but further steps are needed for other alternatives. The Plant Based Foods Industry Association (PBFIA) has requested that FSSAI allow terms such as soy, almond, and oat to be used alongside “Milk, Ghee, Cream, Cheese, and Butter” with a space, hyphen, or a minor spelling change like “Mylk.” As of now, FSSAI has not imposed specific restrictions on meat-related terminology for plant-based products, catering to a diverse consumer base, including vegetarians, non-vegetarians, and vegans. However, there is concern that the plant-based meat industry may face a backlash similar to that experienced by the dairy industry from the meat and poultry sectors as it continues to grow.

Shraddha Warde

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