Vegan meat labelling under scrutiny

22nd June 2021 | Eativity editors

In response to complaints from the Australian red meat industry, Queensland senator Susan McDonald has launched a senate inquiry into food labelling laws. It will investigate if terms such as “meat-free mince”, “sausage made with plants” and “vegan meat” pass muster.

McDonald, a former butcher shop owner, says it’s up to non-meat producers to come up with their own names instead of trading off long-established names of animal proteins.

“There are intellectual property issues,” she says. “In our export legislation, we have clear definitions of meat being the product of an animal. However, there are gaps domestically. The industry invests millions of dollars each year to develop the intellectual property and benefits of red meat in Australia. It’s important to protect these investments.

“Just like winemakers want exclusive use of some wine names, I feel our red meat industry should have sole use of product names that have meant only one thing for centuries.”

Vegan meat labelling under scrutiny
Meat industry groups say plant-based proteins should stop using terms like “meat”.

“A national disgrace”

The Australian Meat Industry Council, the Cattle Council of Australia and the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) have all welcomed the inquiry. NFF CEO Tony Mahar calls the current labelling of vegan meat alternatives a “distressing and offensive situation for Australia’s hard-working meat producers”. Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Red Meat Advisory Council, John McKillop, says graziers have had enough.

“It’s a national disgrace that highly processed plant-based proteins made from imported ingredients are allowed to be labelled as Australian meat,” he says. “Every day, 434,000 farmers, livestock transporters, meat workers and butchers work together to provide families with natural, nutritious and healthy meat.

“Through droughts, floods and fires, our industry has been there to supply the safest, highest quality meat to Australian consumers. These highly processed, unnatural plant-based products are in no way similar to the red meat produced by Australian farmers.”

Vegan meat labelling under scrutiny
The NFF says using meat-related terms is potentially misleading to consumers and an insult to farmers.

Do we need a distinction?

McKillop says the reputation of Australian red meat has been built over generations. She claims it’s being denigrated by companies using “piggyback marketing” to sell products.

“Infringing a trademarked brand to sell another product is unlawful in Australia,” he continues. “And so should be the use of our industry’s collectively-owned meat category brands if a product is not from the flesh of an animal. We need to fix the status quo. It’s currently failing consumers, as well as Australia’s meat and livestock workers.”

The inquiry will investigate the economic effects of vegan meat on our red meat industry. It will also review the legality of using livestock imagery on vegan meat packaging. Potential health impacts of plant protein manufacturing processes will also be under scrutiny.

“If you prefer tofu over T-bone, then you go for it,” McDonald says. “But forget the ethics of eating animals. This is about protecting a highly valuable industry and providing a clear distinction between the real thing and the alternatives.”