“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 that will investigate if terms like “meat-free mince”, “sausage made with plants” and “vegan bacon” 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, but 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 these investments are protected.

“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.”

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

The Australian Meat Industry Council, the Cattle Council of Australia and the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) have all welcomed the inquiry, with NFF CEO Tony Mahar calling the current labelling of meat alternatives a “distressing and offensive situation for Australia’s hard-working meat producers.”

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 proud 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 always been there to supply the safest and 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.”

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

McKillop says the reputation of red meat that’s been built over generations is now being denigrated by companies that are using “piggyback marketing” to sell their products.

“Infringing a trademarked brand to sell another product is unlawful in Australia, 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,” he continues. “The status quo needs to be fixed, as it’s currently failing consumers and Australia’s meat and livestock workers.”

The inquiry will investigate the economic effects of non-animal protein marketing on Australia’s red meat industry, the legality of using livestock imagery on vegan product packaging and the health benefits of non-animal protein manufacturing processes.

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