Air New Zealand flew into some high-level political turbulence and industry backlash last week when it announced it will be serving synthetic burgers on some international flights (more on this below).
At the same time Virgin Atlantic drew the ire of meat industry figures when reports emerged it was planning to remove beef from its in-flight menus.
In its 2017 Sustainability Report released in June last year, Virgin Atlantic said it was focused on removing food “which contributes to deforestation such as soy, palm oil and beef”.
However, references to beef disappeared in Virgin Atlantic’s 2018 Sustainability Report released this month.
It is still unclear if Virgin Atlantic has in fact removed any beef from its menus.
The airline has not yet responded to Beef Central’s questions about its beef policy, or whether it was aware of the comprehensive sustainability programs that underpin beef production in Australia and globally.
However reports in vegan news outlets last week drawing attention to Virgin’s earlier sustainability report sparked an angry reaction from beef industry leaders, who questioned the basis of such a move.
Red Meat Advisory Council independent chair Don Mackay took to twitter on Friday to say it would be a disgrace for Virgin to remove beef from menus based on ‘false ideology and baseless accusations that beef production harms the environment’:
Virgin removing beef and palm oil products from all flights. What a disgraceful decision based on false ideology and baseless accusations that beef production harms the environment. Virgin should pay a high price for this!
— Don Mackay (@DonMackayd) July 12, 2018
While Virgin Atlantic has remained silent on the issue thus far, Mr Mackay’s tweet prompted Virgin Australia to publicly express its own commitment to Australian beef in response:
Hi Don, we’re proud to use local Australian beef in meals on board our flights. There are no plans to change this and we’re committed to offering local produce on board wherever possible.
— Virgin Australia (@VirginAustralia) July 13, 2018
At the same time another carrier has attracted an angry response from industry and government stakeholders after embracing a vegan burger option.
Air New Zealand, which is majority owned by the NZ Government, last week announced it was adding the plant-based “Impossible Burger” to its Business Premier menu on flights from Los Angeles to Auckland.
The move generated a backlash from industry and political leaders furious that their national airline was promoting a lab-grown American substitute over premium NZ grass-fed beef and lamb.
The Impossible Burger uses ‘soy-based molecules’ to simulates the taste and smell of meat.
To promote its new menu item Air New Zealand produced a video extolling its virtues and paid to fly journalists to Impossible Foods’ US headquarters.
Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters said Air New Zealand should be the NZ meat industry’s number one marketer.
The New Zealand First party’s primary industries spokesman Mark Patterson called the move a “slap in the face” for New Zealand’s red meat sector.
NZ National Party agriculture spokesman and former Primary Industries minister Nathan Guy posted his disappointment: on Twitter:
Disappointing to see Air NZ promoting a GE substitute meat burger on its flights to the USA. We produce the most delicious steaks & lamb on the planet – GMO & hormone free. The national carrier should be pushing our premium products and helping sell NZ to the world.
— Nathan Guy (@NathanGuyOtaki) July 3, 2018
Chief executive at Beef+Lamb New Zealand, Rod Slater, challenged Air New Zealand to help promote local meat in the same way it had promoted a faux meat product produced in the United States.
But Air New Zealand has not backed down, telling NZ news outlet Stuff.co it made no apology for offering “innovative product choices for its customers and will continue to do so in the future”.
In the meantime it is understood the Australian beef industry is seeking to engage directly with Virgin Atlantic to explain the industry’s sustainability credentials and how using Australian beef is complimentary to the carrier’s sustainability goals.