What does India’s proposed vegan standard mean for Australian vegan product?


Posted By on 3/11/21 at 12:59 PM

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) recently released a proposed food safety and labelling standard in relation to vegan foods. The global demand for plant-based meat and animal alternatives is exploding (for a range of different consumer drivers but primarily cultural, sustainability, animal welfare and perceived health reasons).

While the proposed Indian Standard is still open to comment and not yet finalised, it takes a number of positions that would potentially be quite controversial if adopted in Australia.

It takes an absolutist position in relation to the absence of ingredients of animal origin, expressly including additives and processing aids in its definition of “Vegan Food”. More importantly, the compliance section expressly requires that the complete absence of “animal origin” to be verified through analytical tools (be they molecular or chemical or a combination of both).

This means that products will be ineligible to be certified or endorsed as “vegan” under government labelling if they contain any chemical or molecular trace of animal origin, even if those traces are unintentionally present through cross-contamination.

The Australian regulatory position

This strict position contrasts with the current Australian regulation (such as it is) of “vegan” claims in relation to food. In Australia there is no prescriptive or mandatory regulation of such claims, only guidance and voluntary industry standards.

Therefore, the primary regulatory concern is whether a product representing itself to be “vegan” would be found to be misleading if it contained incidental or unintentional traces of animal ingredients. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has been far more equivocal in the limited guidance it has provided in its Food Descriptors Guideline:

most consumers would understand Vegan produce as not being made from, or perhaps not even coming into contact with any animal product, animal by-product or derivative of animal product.

[Emphasis added]

The “perhaps” in that sentence is not very helpful from a risk assessment perspective.

However, that guideline was published in 2006 and there are many vegan products and vegan certifications on the market in Australia that expressly acknowledge the potential presence of animal ingredients through cross-contact or cross-contamination, without precluding “vegan” claims. These products and certifiers continue without any public regulatory action taken by the ACCC.

Separately to the misleading and deceptive risk is the potential food safety issue of Australian consumers relying on “vegan” product as being completely (or safely) absent of allergens of animal origin, particularly those that could trigger anaphylaxis such as crustacea or dairy. While food regulators around Australia have also been silent as to whether “vegan” produce can contain traces of animal product, they have certainly been extremely aggressive in their enforcement of any potential food safety threat posed by – in their view – mislabelled allergens.

What the Indian standard means for Australian producers

For the time being, the Indian standard would only impact Australian vegan produce that is intended for export to India. The Australian marketplace and regulatory enforcement climate is clearly very different to India. However, should such international standards slowly coalesce into global momentum, many Australian products and certifiers may have to take a far more conservative approach if they want to access markets outside of Australia.

If you would like legal advice or a risk assessment as to any of your vegan claims, allergen labelling, traceability procedures, export concerns, verification processes or anything else related to your food business, please do not hesitate in reaching out to KHQ for an obligation-free chat – food@khq.com.au.

KHQ Lawyers - Charles Fisher

Charles Fisher Principal Solicitor

Since completing his Bachelor of Laws and Legal Practice and Bachelor of Arts in 2006, Charles has spent the entirety of his legal career staring at the Food Standards Code (among many other pieces... Read More