Although the alternative protein sector as been increasingly well-received in the Asia Pacific region, many markets currently still govern this as a ‘novel food’. But as its popularity has continued to grow and it has become increasingly apparent that the sector is not going away any time soon, governments are now looking to gain tighter control from a legislative standpoint.
South Korea has become the latest to look into establishing specific food standards to govern the food safety and quality characteristics of products made using alternative proteins, and recently the local Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) announced that it would be launching a public consultation to gather public opinions from industry and consumers alike towards to crafting of these standards.
“There have been demands from the food industry and consumer groups in South Korea to establish separate standards [for alternative protein products], which would help to ensure that regulation can be done more systematically,” MFDS said via a formal statement.
“This will not only resolve the difficulties that the industry has been facing in terms of providing clarity, but also contribute to market revitalisation and help consumers to better understand the alternative protein foods on shelves, guaranteeing that they are making informed choices.
“These standards are expected to be applicable to most alternative foods already on the market so there will be no change to existing food manufacturing processes, and the burden on the local food industry will be minimised.”
Alternative foods covered in these standards were defined to include the alternatives of processed meat products, packaged meat products, processed egg products and so on; and sold under the indication of being similar in shape/taste/texture etc. to dairy, fishery, meat, egg and other animal-related products.
Amongst the proposals made by the ministry for these standards was to differentiate standards according to category, which would see different specifications for food products manufactured in a form ‘similar to dried sausages’ or ‘similar to semi-dried/fermented sausages’, where for example the former would need to have less than 35% moisture content and the latter less than 55% moisture content.
Similarly, to ensure the food safety of foods manufactured in a form ‘similar to fermented milk’, these would be required to be sterilised and cooled to prevent microorganism contamination; and the lactic acid bacteria used for the fermentation would also need to undergo strict processing.
“MFDS has found it necessary to impose government intervention due to the rapid growth of the alternative protein foods market following social and environmental concerns as well as religious beliefs,” said the ministry.
“With existing regulations, the management of this sector is possible but there has been continuing demand for separate regulations and a local survey has found local alternative food businesses face various challenges in the absence of these specific regulations.
“These include the absence of regulatory governance and standardisation, difficulties in technology development, as well as a lack of consumer awareness.”
Members of the public will be able to submit opinions to the consultation on the MFDS website until February 20 this year.
Minimal burden prioritised
Despite not anticipating any lashback in terms of budgetary or food manufacturing complexities to arise from this proposal, MFDS stated in its documentation that this proposal is unlikely to be able to satisfy all parties.
“We have heard from several companies that have requested the establishment of [legislation to govern] individual separate food types,” said the ministry.
“There might be backlash from these parties, but the advantage of the steps in this proposal is that the burden on the industry can be overall minimised.”