Many people have asked me, so whatever happened with the situation with Zengarry Cashew Cheeses and the Canada Food Inspection Agency?
Zengarry received significant media coverage (mostly a lot of CBC) in late June and early July when its owner, Lynda Turner, and the Plant Foods Council went public calling for changes to food regulations that discriminate against vegan products similar to traditional animal products such as meats, milks, cheeses and butters. Turner’s business had been hit with an order to change the product name, because the word “cheese” is protected, and given a short timeline within which to comply.
After a few crazy weeks, resolution is near so I asked Lynda to give us all an update.
PT: Where do things stand now?
LT: I submitted the Corrective Action Plan to CFIA with requests to 1) wait until the new CFIA regulations came out to determine how this would affect the labelling requirements. 2) grant me permission to use up my remaining inventory of labels.
In addition I provided options in order of preference to change the production name. My first preference was to use quotation marks around the word cheese. The second was to say 100% dairy free raw cashew cheese.
CFIA responded without addressing the first point, but they did give me until early 2016 to use up remaining label inventory and accepted the proposal to label using the 100% dairy free raw cashew cheese product name. All of these words are currently on the labels, but new labels will have to move words around to accommodate the CFIA requirements.
LT: I am VERY relieved to be able to continue using the word cheese on my labels because I do feel like this is the best description of what my product actually is. To have to use a vague descriptor like ‘cashew spread’ or ‘cultured cashew product’ is less than appetizing and in my opinion would not effectively describe my product. So I see that as a big win!
It is a bit frustrating to have to redesign my labels and website to rearrange the words that were already on the label in the first place. It seems like such a waste of time and resources and I’m not sure that rearranging these words on the label makes anything clearer for the consumer. I think that is what bothers me the most.
PT: How have the CFIA’s demands changed the way you operate?
LT: I think it’s made me more cautious and wary. I guess you have to be prepared for anything. It has also made me much more conscious of what to document. Keeping records of every part of my processing is very important.
PT: What would you say that you’ve learned from the whole situation?
LT: I learned a lot about the regulations around food processing and labelling. As an entrepreneur, I am CONSTANTLY evolving and learning. Trying new things and problem solving is a huge part of my job. To be able to navigate my way through this situation gives me confidence that I can face the next challenge.
PT: You received a lot of media coverage as a result of sharing your story. What was that like for you? Did anything come of it?
LT: The media attention was a first for me. It was intimidating but also wonderful to have that platform to bring attention to this important issue that is not unique to Zengarry. I can only assume that CFIA was aware of interviews. I’m not sure how it influenced them if at all.
Collectively as vegans we have a voice that can no longer go unnoticed. The demand for plant based alternatives to animal based foods is expanding quickly. This creates the need for an evolution and modernization of how these foods are labelled and regulated. It’s a very real issue. So is GMO labelling. There is still a long way to go. Let’s just hope the government is listening.
PT: What is next for Fauxmagerie Zengarry?
LT: Fauxmagerie Zengarry will soon officially be an ‘INC’. That’s pretty exciting! We are expanding in the Quebec market now with a distributor, allowing us to broaden our reach.
We have some really great shows coming up, Toronto Veg Food Fest, Montreal Vegan Festival and hopefully the Urban Craft Christmas show in Ottawa! I have also begun to focus more energy on teaching my workshops. There are two scheduled in Ottawa and one in Toronto this fall, so far. Oh and… cashew based Tzatziki. 🙂
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(Disclosure: I am working as a consultant with Zengarry on its marketing and PR.)