A new Senate inquiry into food labeling doesn’t just concern vegan ‘meat’, but the future of Australia’s livestock industry

  • Australian red meat producers and the plant-based alternative industry are clashing over a landmark Senate inquiry into food labeling.
  • The new inquiry will hear arguments about the naming of plant-based products and whether the term ‘meat’ can be used in Australia.
  • But much more is at stake than just naming rights, with the investigation setting the stage for a major battle between the titans of the industry.
  • Visit the Business Insider Australia homepage for more stories.

Australia’s red meat industry and major players in the ‘alternative protein’ market are trading blows ahead of a landmark Senate inquiry into food labeling that threatens to block producers of plant-based ‘meat’ to even use the word.

But the investigation goes far beyond mere naming rights, foreshadowing new battles between Australia’s $28.5 billion red meat industry and competitors who believe they are producing the food of the future.

On Wednesday, LNP Queensland Senator Susan McDonald announced that the Senate Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation would investigate the “potential degradation” of local red meat producers by companies that produce alternatives herbal.

The investigation will determine whether plant-based producers, such as rising stars v2food and longtime manufacturer Sanitarium, are confusing consumers and damaging the overall Australian meat brand by using terms such as ‘meat’, ‘sausage’ or “bacon” to describe their products. .

McDonald, which once owned a butcher shop, said the country’s cow, pig, sheep and goat farmers collectively invest “hundreds of millions of dollars every year to develop and improve the intellectual property and benefits of meat. red in Australia, and it is important that these investments are protected.

“If you prefer tofu over T-bone, then go for it,” she added.

“But forget the ethics of consuming animal products, it’s about protecting a very valuable industry and providing a clear distinction between the real thing and the alternatives so consumers know exactly what they’re getting. .”

Industry organizations have backed McDonald’s investigation, arguing that Australian consumers are being deliberately misled by plant-based products lining the fridges of their nearest supermarket.

“Some plant-based protein companies are trying to build on the reputation of Australian beef by creating confusion,” said Cattle Council of Australia chairman Markus Rathsmann.

“This investigation will carefully consider whether it is fair to call a product something like ‘no beef, beef’ when there is no beef in it.”

Australian Meat Industry Council CEO Patrick Hutchinson welcomed the investigation and the focus on naming rights. The investigation should determine whether “the labeling of manufactured plant proteins is not a point of confusion for consumers, and that only genuine meat products are labeled as such,” he said.

“These products are not lamb or any type of meat and must be labeled accordingly,” added Stephen Crisp, CEO of Sheep Producers Australia.

Some producers tackle affirmation head-on. Kjetil Hansen, founder of meat-alternative company Deliciou, said the survey “is insulting to people’s intelligence to say they’re going to confuse plant-based chicken with a chicken that eats chicken.” plants despite clear labeling on the products”.

Other companies, feeling the heat of a toasted senate, have proposed voluntary guidelines on the labeling of meat substitutes.

“These guidelines, in line with Australian Consumer Law, aim to ensure that consumers and manufacturers have guidance for clear and accurate labeling,” said Nick Hazell, CEO and Founder of v2food.

While lawmakers have yet to determine whether consumers are being cheated, it’s hard to ignore how plant-based alternatives have sought out supermarket real estate alongside the real deal. On Monday, international giant Beyond Meat celebrated the arrival of its meatless burgers at Woolworths – where they will be on display in the meat aisle.

Should the investigation be in favor of the red meat industry, Australia could join countries like France in banning the use of terms such as ‘steak’ or ‘saucisse’ for products other than meat.

Yet the debate is about much more than newcomers to the food industry cutting someone’s lunch.

scare the herd

The investigation will also cover submissions regarding the “health implications of consuming heavily manufactured protein products”; whether other Australian animal products are affected by current naming conventions; and, tellingly, the “long-term social and economic impacts of Australian branding of the meat category” on businesses and workers in rural Australia.

The index is in the “long term”. Looking to the future, meat producers are now taking the threat of a maturing meat substitute industry more seriously than ever. More changes are on the way, according to Hungry Jack founder and v2food investor Jack Cowin.

“If I tell you that there will be [meat alternatives] product that tastes at least equal to or better than the existing meat product, but at a significantly lower price than meat of animal origin, with significant health, environmental and animal cruelty gains , common sense tells me, we will see the transition to plant and cell meat products over the next ten to twenty years,” Cowin told the Global Food Forum in Sydney earlier this month.

Far from a total takeover, Cowin suggested industries could eventually work side-by-side to deal with the planet’s growing protein consumption and climate stresses.

This conciliatory approach is also favored by Food Frontier, a non-profit think tank focused on the Australian meat alternatives industry.

Responding to McDonald’s announcement, Food Frontier CEO Thomas King said, “This investigation must avoid viewing the emergence of new proteins as an ‘either – or’ scenario; it’s a scenario where every industry will have to grow and work together to ensure global nutritional needs are met.

Vast opportunities await Australian grain growers, King added, saying they could “benefit from the growth of the plant protein industry” at home and abroad.

Either way, the chances of the Australian meat industry partnering with plant-based producers seem extremely slim. Some opposition to plant-based alternatives has even taken on a religious aspect.

In that farm online Called “the most talked about event” at the Beef Australia 2021 conference, a guest speaker reportedly suggested that Sanitarium – a company wholly owned by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which advocates for a plant-based diet – uses “gullible” vegans and vegetarians as “foot soldiers of processed food industry and religious ideology”.

“We’re not saying ‘don’t eat meat,'” a Sanitarium spokesperson told Business Insider Australia. “Everyone has a choice.”

Survey submissions close July 30.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this report incorrectly labeled Food Frontier as a lobby group. It is a think tank focused on alternative proteins.

Norman D. Briggs