Enough of the marketing trickery, fake meat is not meat


If you shop regularly at supermarkets it is highly likely you have seen an influx of plant-based products.

Such products join the wide variety of foods we enjoy, but are they enjoyed for what they are, or because they are being confused for something else?

Oxford English Dictionary defines meat as "the flesh of an animal, typically a mammal or bird, as food"; bacon as "cured meat from the back or sides of a pig"; and chicken as "a domestic fowl kept for its eggs or meat". Plant is not mentioned is any of these definitions.

Australian meat producers have called on the producers of plant-based meat alternatives to stop using animal imagery and wording, such as "beef", "bacon", "chicken", "mince" and "sausages", on product packaging or in marketing material because it leads to confusion.

Pollinate surveyed 1000 Australian consumers in July for its Attitudes to Plant-Based Meat research report.

The research agency's report found 61 per cent of those surveyed "mistook at least one plant-based meat product as containing animal meat".

Additionally, half "find packaging for the products tested in the survey to be confusing", citing "animal imagery", "small or hard to read font for 'plant-based' references" and "use of meat descriptors" as the major causes of this confusion.

Another source of confusion was where plant-based products were positioned by supermarket chains, both in store and online. Almost half of respondents had a hard time figuring out whether a product was made from plant-based versus animal meat when looking at products in store. Categorisation of plant-based meat alternatives confused 42 per cent of online shoppers. Pollinate reported strong community support for "clearer packaging for plant-based meat".

The Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport is conducting an inquiry into the Definitions of Meat and Other Animal Products.

This inquiry is examining whether meat branding has been impaired by "the appropriation of product labelling by manufactured plant-based or synthetic protein brands" and the social and economic impacts on businesses, livestock producers and individuals in rural, regional and remote Australia, as well as other implications.

As the former managing director of Queensland butchery chain Super Butcher, committee chair Senator Susan McDonald knows the consumer market when it comes to meat products. She says consumers need a clear definition for what they are buying, or being served in cafes and restaurants, so they can make an informed decision. And I agree.

Tasmania is home to an incredible array of beef, lamb, chicken, fish, fruit, vegetable, dairy, nut and pulse producers. This state's agricultural industry is one of our key contributors and we're known for high-quality produce.

I'm sure those responsible for the Tasmanian meat-based and plant-based products want them celebrated for being fresh and flavoursome, not being so cleverly marketed that consumers do not know what they are eating.

When making a submission to the inquiry, Tasmania's primary producer industry body TFGA (Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association) pointed out that "there should be no need for plant-based meat free products to piggyback off the meat industry, especially when 'meat free' is at the absolute core of their product proposition".

TFGA's Dairy Council also pointed to members' concern about manufactured plant-based substitutes like "soy milk" and "meat-free bacon".

Using the milk example, the council's submission explained "milk can only be labelled as milk while it fits within the nutritional profile of milk... If the parameters are even slightly changed during processing...the product cannot be labelled as milk, as it falls outside the specifications of the natural product".

Smithton-based producer HW Greenham & Sons produces premium meat products including Cape Grim Beef, Bass Strait Beef and Robbins Island Wagyu. Greenham's submission said consumers had reported being confused by non-meat products and that "...labelling these products with meat descriptors could further cause confusion around nutrition, especially for those with poor food and nutrition knowledge".

As these Tasmanian submissions show, this issue comes down to our choice, and consumers do not choose confusion. A healthy diet contains a wide variety of foods. Each of us should be able to choose which foods we consume based on our personal preferences, health requirements and beliefs, without that choice involving confusion.

Vegetarians choose not to eat meat, fish and, sometimes, other animal products; vegans do not eat food derived from animals. Why would either vegetarians or vegans choose to buy a plant-based product that is packaged or promoted to look, sound or feel like meat? Surely this is an affront to the choice they have made in not consuming meat or animal products.

None of us would accept meat products as being vegetarian, even if promoted that way, so why should we entertain plant-based products being labelled as meat?