Mandatory food labelling requirements and a far-reaching review of Australia’s food standards regulator are among nine recommendations made today by the Senate Inquiry into meat definitions.
The findings could have major ramifications for the plant protein and non-dairy “milk” industries.
Chairman of the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee, Senator Susan McDonald, led the inquiry after fielding complaints from consumers and meat sectors about vegan food companies appropriating long-accepted animal descriptors and imagery on packaging.
Since June 2021, the committee took submissions and heard evidence from beef, poultry, and pork farmers, seafood sellers, dairy companies, consumer advocates and plant-protein sector representatives including global brands Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods.
Senator McDonald said the inquiry had made it abundantly clear that regulation was needed to help consumers choose food and to protect the intellectual property of Australia’s multi-billion-dollar meat, dairy and seafood industries, especially with lab-grown meat set to enter markets in coming years.
“Consumers say they are confused by plant products featuring names like ‘chicken’, ‘beef’ or ‘prawns’ with pictures of those animals on the packaging and the words ‘plant based’ or ‘meat free’ printed in much smaller letters,” she said.
“This is especially true for people with impaired sight, who are dyslexic, who have English as a second language or who have a disability.
“It can even apply to people who are simply in a hurry with a screaming child on their hip grabbing a packet with a chicken on it for the family’s dinner and realising when they get home that it’s not chicken at all.
“No one likes to see more regulation but it is the Committee’s view that labelling does need to clearly differentiate between plant proteins and products long associated with coming from animals.”
Current labelling of plant proteins is allowed under Food Standards Australia New Zealand rules but this is the subject of some of the recommendations.
“We are advising that a current review being undertaken of FSANZ also include reversing its allowance of plant proteins and non-dairy milks to use animal descriptors,” said Senator McDonald.
“We also recommend that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission act on concerns plant proteins are placed too close to animal proteins in stores.”
Senator McDonald reiterated her support for the plant-protein industry, noting the Committee also recommended more government support for expanding the sector.
“Australian pulse and veggie farmers can tap into the plant-protein market, so it makes no sense for people to frame this inquiry as somehow wanting to cripple that industry or attack vegans and vegetarians,” she said.
“All we’re suggesting is that, like margarine makers did by choosing a name that didn’t contain butter, plant protein marketers come up with ways to promote their products without trading on animal names and imagery.
“The same goes for cultured meat. When that eventually hits the market, it needs to be clearly discernible from meat grown in a paddock, so we are recommending the government get involved now in regulating meat definitions.”
The nine recommendations:
The committee recommends the Australian Government develops a mandatory regulatory framework for the labelling of plant-based protein products, in consultation with representatives from the traditional and plant-based protein sectors, food service industry and retailers.
The committee recommends the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission reviews the placement of plant-based protein products in retailers’ stores, including online platforms.
The committee recommends the Australian Government ensures the application of a mandatory regulatory framework is applicable to cultured meat products, in preparation for the introduction of those products onto the Australian market.
The committee recommends that, as part of its current review and modernisation of the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Act 1999, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) initiate a review in consultation with industry, of section 1.1.1—13(4) of the FSANZ Code and recommend exempting its application to named meat, seafood and dairy category brands.
The committee recommends, on conclusion and application of the review of the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Code, that Food Standards Australia New Zealand develops guidelines to inform labelling and marketing practices for manufacturers of plant-based protein products.
The committee recommends the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission develops a National Information Standard that defines and restricts the use of meat category brands to animal protein products. This standard should include guidance on the use of livestock imagery for labelling and marketing of plant-based protein products.
The committee recommends the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, in partnership with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, examines measures to:
strengthen the plant-based protein product sector’s capacity to source its products from Australian grown produce; and
support investment opportunities into the Australian plant-based alternative product sector’s manufacturing infrastructure to foster competitiveness and market opportunities on the international market.
The committee recommends the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment ensures that the plant-based protein product sector is supported to contribute to the Ag2030 goal of achieving a $100 billion agricultural sector by 2030.
The committee recommends that, as part of its review of the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Act 1999, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), initiates consultations with stakeholders about amending the FSANZ Code to include:
a definition of plant-based protein products; and
minimum compositional requirements for plant-based protein products.
The full report and list of recommendations is available at https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Rural_and_Regional_Affairs_and_Transport/DefinitionsofMeat/Report
Red meat sector welcomes findings
The Red Meat Advisory Council (RMAC) has welcomed the findings and common-sense approach handed down today in the report by the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport
legislation Committee Inquiry into meat definitions and other animal products.
RMAC Independent Chair John McKillop (right) said it is unacceptable that highly processed plant-based protein made from imported ingredients are allowed to be labelled as Australian meat and was pleased to see that following careful consideration of all the issues, the Senate Inquiry has agreed.
This is a great outcome not only for the red meat and livestock sector, but also other traditional meat protein sectors including pork, chicken meat and seafood.
“The Inquiry’s recommendations will go a long way in helping to restore truth in labelling for Australian consumers, while ensuring animal and manufactured plant-based protein industries can compete on a level playing field,” Mr McKillop said
“The red meat and livestock industry’s reputation for product quality is renowned around the world.
Our 75,000 businesses and Australia’s 445,000 red meat employees and 24 million domestic consumers of red meat, and millions of export consumers that support them, continue to be a
major contributor to Australia’s economy and a lifeblood for our rural and regional areas.
“By concluding that the current regulatory framework for the labelling of plant-based protein products is inadequate and decisive action is needed, the Committee supports the protection of
consumers, as well as the brand and reputation of traditional animal proteins like ‘beef’, ‘lamb’ and ‘goat’.
“The recommendations handed down in today’s report vindicate industry’s long held view that minimum regulated standards are required to prohibit plant protein product manufacturers from
referencing traditional animal proteins like ‘beef’, ‘lamb’ and ‘goat’, and using livestock images on plant protein packaging or marketing materials.
“The Committee has also put the debate on consumer confusion to bed, concluding that Australian families are being deceived by misleading labels and descriptions used by plant-based companies.
“It’s now abundantly clear that Australia’s regulatory and enforcement framework requires urgent strengthening. The practice of denigrating meat products through misleading advertising must be stopped.
“The red meat and livestock industry therefore calls on Food Standards Australia and New Zealand and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to implement the recommendations outlined in the report as quickly as possible,” Mr McKillop said.
RMAC said key recommendations include:
• the Australian Government develop a mandatory regulatory framework for the labelling of plant-based protein products (Recommendation 1),
• Food Standards Australia New Zealand initiate a review of section 1.1.1—13 (4) of the FSANZ Code and recommends exempting its application to named meat, seafood and
dairy category brands (Recommendation 4), and
• the ACCC develops a National Information Standard that defines and restricts the use of meat category brands to animal protein products. This standard should include guidance
on the use of livestock imagery for labelling and marketing of plant-based protein products
“The red meat and livestock industry welcomes these recommendations and commends the Committee, Committee Chair Senator Susan McDonald and Deputy Chair Senator Glenn Sterle in
particular, for its comprehensive work on this important issue,” said Mr McKillop.