A Senate committee recommends developing a National Information Standard that defines and restricts the use of meat category brands (eg “meat”, “beef”, “lamb”, “goat”, “pork”, “chicken” and seafood terminology) to animal protein products.

The standard should include guidance on using livestock imagery to label and market plant-based protein products. The use of livestock imagery is not currently regulated. The standard should be developed by the ACCC. The committee also recommends that:

Regulation of labels of plant-protein and synthetic meat: the Australian government develop a mandatory regulatory framework for the labelling of plant-based protein products. These regulations should be able to apply to synthetic or cultured meat products (where cells from healthy animals are grown in a cell culture) when they are introduced in Australia.

Review of food standards code: as part of its current review of the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Act 1999, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ)

“Chicken-free chicken”: start a review of s 1.1.1—13(4) of the FSANZ Code and recommend exempting its application to named meat, seafood and dairy category brands. Under s 1.1.1—13(4) of the Code, food and beverage products are allowed to use qualifying descriptors to ensure a consumer is aware of the true nature of a product and its intended use, eg “vegan cheese”, “vegetable sausage”, “chicken-free chicken” or “beef-free beef patty”. “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.

Defining plant-protein, setting compositional requirements: start consultations about defining plant-based protein products in the FSANZ Code, and setting minimum compositional requirements for such products in the Code.

Guidelines for labelling and marketing: that FSANZ develop guidelines for labelling and marketing of plant-based protein products, after completing and applying the review of the FSANZ Code

Review placement of plant-protein in shops: the ACCC reviews the placement of plant-based protein products in retailers’ stores, including online. There are concerns that plant proteins are put too close to animal proteins in stores.

Support using Australian-grown produce in plant-protein: the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment and CSIRO examines measures to:

○ help plant-protein manufacturers use Australian-grown vegetables and pulses; and

○ support investment into Australian plant-based alternative product manufacturing

Support the plant-protein industry: the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment supports the plant-based protein product sector.

“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,” Senator McDonald 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”. This is important as “lab-grown meat [is] set to enter markets in coming years.”

Sources:

• Senator Susan Mcdonald, Vegan food packaging focus of inquiry recommendations, [media release], 24 February 2022.

• Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee, Don’t mince words: definitions of meat and other animal products, List of Recommendations, para 4.41, 2.48, 1.42, February 2022.