Clear and consistent information for buying plant-based foods

In response to a booming segment within the food sector, BSI has now produced a PAS on the definition of “100% plant-based food”. This blog post explains what’s in the new document and how it can be used.

“Plant-based”, “vegan”, “vegetarian”, “flexitarian” and “meat-free” – these are all terms that have become more common as our recognition grows that diets with less red meat and full-fat dairy products are better for our health and the environment.

In tandem, science-based policies increasingly recommend changing patterns of food production and consumption to improve public health and reduce damage to the environment. Research also confirms that the consumer’s appetite for the reduced consumption of animal-derived foods continues to grow.

All well and good – but does everyone concerned have a shared understanding of what’s meant by the terms that are increasingly used to present and advertise these types of food product to the consumer? Standards already cover or are being prepared to cover, the terms “vegetarian” and “vegan”. And this month we’ve launched a new PAS that covers what’s meant by “100% plant-based” called: PAS 224:2020 100% plant-based foods – Characteristics and composition – Code of practice.

Derived from plants
PAS 224:2020 formalizes the criteria that should be met in order to use a claim of “100% plant-based”. The criteria are derived from an expert consensus of what the term means.

The key principles underpinning the standard are that 100% plant-based foods should be those whose characterizing ingredients are derived from plants, and that don’t contain any animal-derived ingredients. A “characterizing” ingredient will typically be one that’s mentioned in the name of the product. “Animal-derived” means originated in part or whole from an animal (e.g. fish, meat, fish oil and gelatine), produced by an animal (e.g. eggs, honey and milk), or cultured animal cells and tissues, (no single term for which seems to have emerged, with candidates including “no-kill”, “cultivated”, “motherless” or “cell-based”).

It should also be noted, of course, that many foods contain ingredients that are neither animal, nor plant derived. Typical ingredients in this category would be, for instance, water and minerals such as salt, as well as artificial or synthetic ingredients that could include nutrients and additives. The standard in fact accepts that, essentially, any food product that contains 0% animal ingredients can be presented as “100% plant-based.”

In terms of manufacturing, food business operators are also required to take appropriate measures in all stages of food production and processing to prevent the presence of animal-derived substances in 100% plant-based products.

Food labelling and claims
The intention of the PAS is that food sector participants will use it as a universally accepted definition of what constitutes “100% plant-based” going forward. This will ensure that the term isn’t misconstrued or used to mislead, deceive or to create an erroneous impression in the future.

The standard was written for use by manufacturers of plant-based foods, retailers, advertisers and consumers. As to how it will be used – that will be in business-to-business communications; business-to-consumer communications; relationships in the global food supply chain; international trade of food products and in food labelling and claims. It could also be used by regulators.

We should add that PAS 224:2020 is distinct from standards for the term “vegan,” as it applies solely to ingredients, and not to production and/or manufacturing processes. As such, the “100% plant-based” designation is very useful since it occupies the space between “vegetarian” and “vegan” in one of the fastest-growing segments of the food sector.