Livestock producers don't own the word 'beef' and 'meat', say academics

Livestock producers don't own the word 'beef' and 'meat', say academics

Beef
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'You can't pin language down like that': Linguistics expert

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Academics from the University of Sydney have weighed in on the labelling of vegan foods as meat and beef, saying livestock producers can not lay claim to words as language is ever-changing.

In the wake of the announcement of a senate inquiry into food labelling laws that will investigate if terms such as plant-based beef and vegan bacon pass muster, Professor of Linguistics Nick Enfield said the meat industry's arguments don't stand up to scrutiny.

All of language was essentially open slather in that if people begin to use a word in a new way, it takes on that meaning, he said.

Tea was a good example. It is a native shrub to China but today means a hot beverage and can be anything from chamomile to mint.

"In the end, if the population decides to use a word in a new way, then sorry, but you get left behind," Prof Enfield said.

In fact, the word 'meat' once meant 'food' in Old English, and it only later acquired the narrower meaning it now has, he said.

"All words have multiple meanings and extensions. We already use the word 'meat' in a range of metaphors or extensions - the meat of the problem, the meat of a jackfruit - and this is all that's happening with plant-based meat substitutes," Prof Enfield said.

Beef producers have cheekily suggested that under this argument, perhaps social media bloggers calling themselves university professors is now a permanent language change that one and all must accept.

Vested interests

Professor Enfield felt livestock industry arguments against the plant-based food industry using these terms were about protecting market income.

And while 'they may succeed in changing laws around what can be put on packaging they certainly won't stop people using words in whatever way they want to', he said.

"You simply can't pin language down in that way. You can pass a law but it won't be based on linguistics science," he said.

Asked if he felt plant-based industries were also looking to protect market income, Prof Enfield said perhaps, but 'what was best for society generally' had to be considered.

More and more people were seeking alternatives to meat - the plant-based industry was booming, he said.

The beef industry should be asking itself if it was wise to be making a fuss about this, he said.

Dr Diana Bogueva, from the university's Centre for Advanced Food Enginomics, says the meat industry's ploy will fail.

"The increased competition between plant-based products and conventional meat is not going to be stopped by omitting the name 'meat' from plant-based food labelling," she said.

Both academics said plant-based marketing clearly indicates their origins - there was never any attempt to pass products off as animal-sourced.

The Alternative Proteins Council, a newly-formed representative group for plant-based food producers, has also said companies producing plant-based alternatives use terms like 'sausages' to describe their product's format and utility, along with clear qualifiers like 'plant-based' to clearly communicate its ingredients. That was a common-sense and evidence-based approach, it said.

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