A butcher-turned-politician is waging war against vegan meat, demanding the products be banned from being marketed as sausages, steak and bacon, saying that labelling is “appropriating” real meat.
But Australia’s fast-growing meat-free meat market says it isn’t trying to trick consumers, and wants to “co-exist” with its more traditional competitor.
“Just like winemakers wanting exclusive use of some wine names, I feel strongly that our Aussie red meat industry should have sole use of product names that have meant only one thing for centuries,” Liberal National Party senator Susan McDonald said, in launching a Senate inquiry on Wednesday.
The Queenslander, a butcher before entering Parliament, said she “has a beef with vegan products using meat terms on their packaging”, claiming there were “intellectual property issues” at play.
“Australia’s red meat industry has been upset by these products being called “sausages”, “bacon” and “meat” and I believe they have a fair argument,” Senator McDonald said.
As part of the Parliamentary Friends of Red Meat group, which exists in the Australian federal Parliament, she has called for a Senate inquiry into ‘Definitions of meat and other animal products‘.
It will run under Parliament’s rural affairs committee and has been tasked to probe issues including meat producers suffering “potential impairment” from “plant-based or synthetic protein brands”, the use of livestock images on packaging for non-meat products, and the “health implications” of those foods including any additives or chemicals.
It will also investigate whether plant-based products were “appropriating” the names of meat.
Producers of plant-based meat say their products use far less water and land, and produce far less emissions, than traditional meat and livestock. But opponents claim the products are heavily processed and can be high in fat or sugar.
Vegan meats, designed to mimic burgers, sausages or chicken nuggets, are commonplace in supermarkets now.
Fast food giants like Hungry Jacks and Domino’s pizza are already selling vegan meat products in Australia, while McDonald’s – no relation to the Senator – and KFC are experimenting overseas.
A 2019 Deloitte Access Economics report estimated plant-based meat products could generate between $1.4 billion and $3 billion in Australian retail sales by 2030, and noted global demand could hit $450 billion by 2040.
Senator McDonald said it was “up to makers of non-meat products to come up with their own distinct terms instead of trading off long-established names of animal proteins”.
Red Meat Advisory Council chairman John McKillop also strongly opposed the marketing of non-meat products.
“It is a national disgrace that highly processed plant-based protein made from imported ingredients are allowed to be labelled as Australian meat,” he said in a statement.
Mr McKillop claimed plant-based products were “highly processed” and “unnatural”, but were trying to “piggyback” on steaks and chops.
But companies in the alternative meat space said they were not trying to trick anyone.
Nick Hazell, CEO of popular company v2food, said his industry was already actually working on “voluntary guidelines” around labelling of products.
“These guidelines, consistent with Australian Consumer Law, aim to ensure both consumers and manufacturers have guidance for clear and accurate labelling,” he told TND.
Mr Hazell said he wanted to “co-exist” with livestock farmers.
“There is room for both at the dinner table,” he said.
“Consumers are demanding more protein – both plant and animal – with global consumption increasing by 40 per cent since 2000. In fact, demand for protein is greater than supply, so we need to look at new and sustainable sources of protein than the traditional animal sources.”
The inquiry was also noted with interest by the NSW Farmers’ group.
Have you got a beef with terms like ‘vegan bacon’ and ‘meat-free mince’? @SenMcDonald does. The Queensland senator has launched a Senate Inquiry into the use of meat branding for plant-based products. pic.twitter.com/2bJIs7BJW6
— NSW Farmers (@NSWFarmers) June 16, 2021
The group’s president James Jackson said NSW Farmers wanted to work alongside “alternative protein” companies, but that it backed the thrust of the Senate probe.
“NSW Farmers policy does support clear labelling of alternative protein products, so we do support the aim of this inquiry,” he told TND.
“NSW Farmers is in no way opposed to alternative protein products. This is just around appropriate labelling and consumers having full transparency.”
Mr Jackson noted that, of course, farmers were the ones growing the raw ingredients – like beans or vegetables – for non-meat products, and that it “does present a growing market opportunity for farmers”.