AS unappetising as it may sound, fake meat is here and the beef industry has to get it’s ducks in line.
That will mean gathering scientific evidence, looking for the opportunities that present and lobbying hard for fair labelling.
This has been the common message from speakers from all over the world at Beef Australia, in Rockhampton, where alternative protein - both laboratory-made and plant-based - was the hot topic.
With Impossible Burger’s plant-based products now on the menu in Texas, United States cattleman Colin Woodall’s take on the issue was keenly sought.
Mr Woodall is the senior vice president of government affairs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Washington, and says a key agenda for his organisation at the moment is preventing their government from allowing these products to be called beef.
“If you’ve ever had an Impossible burger, you’ll know it’s impossible to get the taste out of your mouth - it’s that terrible,” Mr Woodall said.
“But we have to take this seriously. There is going to be a market for it and we have to be prepared for it because it will displace beef in some areas.
“At the same time we have to be careful we don’t completely poo poo the process and the product. Keep in mind we all like innovation and technology but we have to be clear it has to be regulated and they can’t call it beef.”
Rabobank senior analyst animal protein in the United States Don Close, speaking at a packed industry breakfast hosted by the big agribusiness bank, seconded that.
“I am absolutely a solid supporter of beef association’s mandates that those products be labelled for what they are and not labelled as animal protein or meat,” he said.
“We learned a lesson with milk labelling - that cow is already outside the barn. We can’t put that toothpaste back in the tube,” he said.
“But meat now has the opportunity to learn at the dairy people’s expense.”
Mr Close said fake meat did have a place in the future but he believed it’s inventors had the wrong target market in mind.
“If we truly believe we will have 9.5 billion people to feed on this planet in only 30 years from now, we’d better be developing every form of protein we can muster,” he said.
“The proponents of those products today are fully convinced it is the high income, upwardly-mobile millennial that is the target audience.
“That millennial is fickle.
“By the time these products are commercially viable they will be on the next greatest thing.
“The real potential for that product is the emerging middle class.”
Nutrition scientist Dr Joanna McMillan, a speaker at the Central Queensland University symposium, said panelists she’d recently shared a stage with claimed they could make a plant-based burger that even a beef producer would not be able to pick from the real thing.
This chef’s point was the rise of what is being termed ‘plant based eating’ is a friendlier term than vegan and therefore fuelling the trend, she said.
“Vegetarianism and veganism is still a minor percentage of Australian diets but it’s growing,’ she said.
“It is the most google-searched diet in Australia.”
Dr McMillan said as a scientist, she wanted to see an evidence-based comparison between plant-based product and good quality beef both from a nutritional and a climate change perspective.
That data had to be on the table scientifically and the beef industry should be making it happen, she said.