Vegan food labels breaching common law tort of passing off: Smithfield

Vegan food labels breaching common law tort of passing off: Smithfield

Beef
Cattle on feed at Smithfield.

Cattle on feed at Smithfield.

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Smithfield Cattle Company's submission to senate inquiry into food labels

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PROMINENT Queensland lot feeders Smithfield Cattle Company, a family-owned operation whose history in the beef industry spans back to 1928, says the playing field with alternative protein makers needs to be levelled.

The current senate inquiry into labelling of plant-based products is an opportunity to end the inappropriate conduct of alternative product producers and they should be forced to market their goods without references to beef and meat, Smithfield argues.

In a submission to the inquiry, the operation's chief executive officer Andrew Shearer-Smith said it was irrefutable that packaging could mislead or deceive, whether intentional or not.

"Regardless of the balance of the text appearing on a package or label, the use of words that can imply the contents are something they are not is inappropriate and probably unlawful," he said.

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With properties in the South Burnett and near Goondiwindi on the NSW border, Smithfield custom feeds for some of the country's leading beef brands as well as sourcing cattle from throughout Queensland and NSW to background and finish for domestic and export markets.

The Smithfield submission makes mention of the common law tort of passing off, which prevents a trader from misrepresenting their goods as being those of another.

It says three elements need to be present for a passing off action: goodwill owned by one party, misrepresentation and damage to that goodwill.

"We submit the alternative product producers are collectively beaching the common law tort of passing off, conceptually at least, and the beef industry should have rights to protect its interests," Mr Shearer-Smith wrote.

Alternative protein makers use the words beef and meat to ensure that consumers make some association with the real thing in terms of taste, texture, aesthetics and/or meal use, the submission says.

"Profiting from the attributes of an unrelated product that is not the subject of a sale is unjust," Mr Shearer-Smith said.

"If it is likely that just one consumer will be misled into buying an alternate product thinking it is beef or another meat then the vendors should be prohibited from using these references."

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