Meat industry ramps up the pressure to ban bogus labels

Industry believes momentum is building to outlaw fake meat labelling

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MOOD CHANGING: Cattle Council of Australia CEO Travis Tobin said it was illegal for someone else to use another's trademark, in his industry's case, meat.

MOOD CHANGING: Cattle Council of Australia CEO Travis Tobin said it was illegal for someone else to use another's trademark, in his industry's case, meat.

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Australian meat producers believe public sentiment is building to stop food companies labelling their plant-based products as "beef".

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Australian meat producers believe public sentiment is building to stop food companies labelling their plant-based products as "beef" or any other meats..

The rise of fake meats has created a headache for food labelling regulators around the world.

The Cattle Council of Australia has been lobbying the national regulator wanting the term "beef" restricted to products which actually contain beef.

"It's illegal to make use of someone else's trademark and the same should go for highly processed products that try to mimic beef," the council's chief executive Travis Tobin said.

The Red Meat Advisory Council has told the federal government the meat industry - cattle, sheep, goat and chicken - is united on the need to change labelling of plant-based products.

Council chair John McKillop said the status quo for meat category branding in Australia is not working.

"Manufactured plant-based proteins are ripping off the reputation for high quality, nutritious, safe food that the Australian meat industry has built over generations of investment," he said.

It follows moves in the United States this month to make it illegal for plant-based foods to use the words "meat" or "beef" on their labels.

The Texas state legislature last week approved House Bill 316 which bans foods not containing meat from animals from labelling their products "meat" or "beef".

The Bill now needs to pass the state's Senate to become law.

The cattle council has asked Food Standards Australia New Zealand, which investigates food labelling issues, to take charge.

Mr Tobin said beef producers welcomed competition and has no problem with people eating grains and vegetables "but we expect plant-based protein companies to be honest about what's in their products".

"Some plant-based protein companies are trying to piggyback off the reputation of Aussie beef by causing confusion," he said.

"The status quo isn't working and something needs to be done to fix it - we must see greater truth in labelling.

"Plant protein companies need to stop using the terms 'meat' or 'beef' and call their products what they are - their highly processed products are simply not meat."

The red meat council's Mr McKillop said options like the Texas Meat and Imitation Food Act need to be considered for Australia.

"As proposed in the Texas Bill, minimum regulated standards would help end the misleading and deceptive marketing tactics currently being used.

"Reforms to establish a fair and balanced regulatory environment for meat category branding will unlock thousands of new jobs for Australians in our growing industry and secure nearly half a million existing jobs across our supply chain."

FSANZ is hosting an online forum on "future foods" on June 1.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud last September established the Plant-based Alternatives Labelling Working Group to discuss the labelling of plant-based products.

"I am sympathetic to concerns from producers of genuine meat and dairy products who are forced to contend with highly creative, and sometimes misleading advertising and labelling of plant-based foods and drinks," Mr Littleproud said at the time.

A result from that working group was plant-based food companies offering to develop voluntary guidelines of the labelling of products.

The meat industry wants labelling like this banned.

The meat industry wants labelling like this banned.

The meat groups say they are "firmly of the belief" the plant-based manufacturers would not comply with a voluntary code and want changes to labelling laws.

Plant-based products on Australian grocery shelves doubled to more than 200 in the past year and almost half of them are made by local manufacturers trying to tap into a global demand.

Many farmers have commented on social media calling for action.

"Truth in labelling, simple as that," Trish Anne commented on Facebook in response to an article from Farmonline on the Texas move.

"Surely a label can't say beef when the product is actually a massively long list of highly processed plant products and flavorings."

"If their product is any good and can compete it should be able to stand on its own," Justine Louise said.

Dairy industry associations have long argued that plant-based alternatives are trading on milk's good name and the nutritional benefits the name implies.

Concerns have also been raised about dairy and meat alternatives occupying the same shelf space in supermarkets as dairy milk and meat.

MORE READING: Red meat under attack.

The proposed Texas law would also prohibit companies producing food from insects, plants or cell cultures from using meat labelling.

"This is for those who choose to eat meat, but it's also for those who choose to not eat meat," the Bill's sponsor Texas state representative Brad Buckley said.

"Our goal here today with this bill is to have clear and accurate labeling so the consumer has no doubt what they're purchasing," Mr Buckley said.

The European Parliament late last year overturned a proposal which would have banned meatless food products having names associated with meat.

Australian and New Zealand authorities have been wrestling with the issue since 2018 when the Food Regulation Standing Committee, a forum of governments, was asked to look into it.

That committee said there was a "lack of evidence to suggest that consumers are being misled".

That finding was important for those pointing to Australian Consumer Law which "prohibits suppliers of food products engaging in conduct that is misleading or deceptive or likely to mislead or deceive consumers in relation to the supply, promotion or advertising of the supplier's products".

"Whilst it is likely that plant-based alternative products will have similar look, smell, taste and mouth-feel of their respective animal products, there are questions as to whether the current food standards adequately differentiate the products and assist consumers to understand the source and nutritional profile of meat, dairy, and their plant-based alternatives," the committee found.

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