Inside the fake meat and honest labelling debate

“We support choice, we just want honest labelling” is the message from the National Farmers’ Federation on the the rise of the ‘fake meat’ market.

With the rise of vegan and vegetarian lifestyles in Australia also comes the rise of ‘fake meat’, which is food that looks and tastes like meat, but is instead plant-based.

As of 2016, 2.1 million Australians have a diet that is all, or almost all, plant-based. More than 11 per cent of Australians classify themselves as vegetarian or vegan.

Veggie patties and rashers of ‘facon’ can be so realistic they even appear to ‘bleed’ when cooked like meat from a slaughtered animal.

Another product of the ‘fake meat’ industry is synthetic meat grown in laboratories. It involves harvesting stem cells from a live animal and essentially being able to grow a steak in a lab environment.

This new industry has ruffled the feathers of the Australian meat industry. Organisation’s like the NFF arguing that these products aren’t in fact meat and are misleading to consumers.

“The official definition of meat is ‘the flesh of an animal carcass’, and these products aren’t that,” NFF CEO Tony Mahar said.

“We’re not worried about the fake meat industry taking over, We’re worried about the truth in the labelling of these products. We want transparency.

“The two products – meat and plant-based proteins – can coexist, but we want people to be informed about what they are buying through accurate and honest product labelling.”

The issue of food labelling is also a challenge in the dairy industry with Australian Dairy Farmers (ADF) recently launching a campaign calling for the government to ban the use of the term milk on soy and nut-based drinks.

“Products made from soy, nuts, coconut and rice are using the term milk in their title even though they do not use milk as an ingredient,” ADF CEO David Inall said.

“This strategy misleads consumers into believing these plant-based products have a nutritional equivalency with dairy.

“A Dairy Australia survey showed that 54 per cent of respondents bought plant-based milk alternatives because the perceived them to be healthier than dairy milk,” he said.

Meat producers in the US are fighting the same battle as Australian primary producers, endeavouring to give definitive answers to the questions: what does ‘meat’ mean? And who has the right to use the term ‘meat’?

At the moment 25 US states are working on food labelling laws with the aim to restrict the use of the words traditionally associated with meat and milk.

The state of Missouri was the first US state to pass a labelling law to regulate the use of the term ‘meat’, restricting the term to mean the flesh from a slaughtered animal.

“We need to make decisions around what is meat, what is milk, what we classify them as and how that should appear on a product label in Australia,” Mr Mahar said

“We need to work out what the government’s role is in this to make sure we can pursue a labelling regime that is beneficial to consumers and producers.”

Despite all this, Aussies still love their ‘real’ meat and dairy products. 

On average per annum Australians consume between 10 kilograms of lamb, 20-30 kilograms of beef, veal and pork; and a whopping 40 kilograms of chicken. Dairy Australia estimates that on average each Aussie consumes 106 litres of fresh milk each year.    

Australia is one of the biggest meat-eating country per-capita in the world with beef production valued at more than $11 billion, sheep meat is valued at more than $4 billion, chicken is at $2.4 billion, and dairy is around $4 billion.

Andrea Martinello

Andrea Martinello

Andrea is the Community & Engagement Officer at the National Farmers' Federation.

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