FSSAI formally launched the national Vegan logo in 2022, mandating traceability as well as compliance with new specific vegan regulations as key criteria for food firms looking to pass the certification process and be endorsed to get the logo to display on all relevant products.
The process is not a simple one, with applicants having to follow a strict set of guidelines and fill out multiple forms, submit various supporting documents and sign a self-declaration form guaranteeing the absence of any ingredients of animal origin, down to the enzymes, flavourings and other additives level.
It is also a costly one – all applicants need to pay FSSAI a fee of INR25,000 (US$305.45) per application, and FSSAI has also specified that one application is needed per variant of every product – e.g. a plant-based milk that has four flavours will need to make four applications and pay the fee four times, with GST taxation not even included in this.
The authority has understandably received a large number of queries and complaints about this, but it has not backed down on its stance regarding payments or the application process, instead highlighting that ‘vegan by default’ products do not need to apply at all.
“[FSSAI] has decided to implement stricter guidelines to submit applications for the endorsement of the Vegan logo [but] products which are vegan by default do not need to apply for this vegan logo,” FSSAI Standards Advisor Harinder Singh Oberoi said via formal documentation.
“This includes agricultural commodities e.g. rice, cereals, pulses, oil seeds, fruits and so o [as well as] those that are minimally processed without the addition of other ingredients e.g. oil and wheat flour; or a mixture of these ingredients without adding any others.
“All other products will need to make the application and display the Vegan logo accordingly.”
However, this does not bode well for smaller firms that are specialising in plant-based manufacturing or making many of such products, as the cost of application is likely to be heavy for these firms.
“FSSAI could do well to work with the industry to better prepare entrepreneurs on compliance and managing the transition [as this move could] crush them,” Plant Based Foods Industry Association India CEO Sanjay Sethi told us.
“It has never happened in this past for any nascent industry, where the start-ups are subjected to [such significant challenges] instead of receiving guidance from industry stalwarts.”
Plant-based challenges abound
Plant-based products, particularly those created as alternatives to dairy products, have faced mounting hurdles from both FSSAI as well as the local dairy sector in terms of using any dairy-related terms including the innocuous ‘milk’ or ‘yoghurt’ on product labels or marketing, even when used together with the term ‘plant-based’.
In 2021, FSSAI ordered all online and offline retailers selling such products to be delisted from sale, and the situation remains in limbo even thought a Delhi High Court judge put a stay on this order later that year.
More recently, FSSAI ordered local authorities throughout India to crackdown on plant-based ghee (clarified butter’), calling for all products labelled as ‘plant-based ghee/butter’ or ‘vegan ghee/butter’ that were being ‘sold deceptively’ to consumers to be ferreted out and removed from public circulation.
This move clearly demonstrates that FSSAI has no intention of loosening its regulations and management surrounding the plant-based sector locally, further supported by the mandate for all such products to carry the Vegan logo as well as the high fees associated with the application.