Plant-based meat has taken off in a big way. Meat-free mince can now be found alongside animal counterparts in the chilled section of Woolworths, causing controversy among those in the meat industry who believe labelling plant-based products as ‘meat’ is misleading to consumers.
Australia’s packaged vegan food market has exploded, and has been predicted to reach $215 million by 2025. These plant-based products are becoming more and more readily available. Meat-free mince can now be found alongside animal counterparts in the chilled section of Woolworths, causing controversy among those in the meat industry who believe labelling plant-based products as ‘meat’ is misleading to consumers.
In response to the appearance of vegan mince in the Woolworths meat aisle, Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud told the ABC that, “the labelling and positioning of all food products should accurately reflect what’s in the packet.” Chair of the Australian Red Meat Advisory Council, Don Mackay said that “what we’re trying to do is make sure that customers and consumers are given the right information,” adding that “other claims should also be accurate and verifiable.”
Australia does not currently have a nationally consistent approach to animal-product labelling. Australian meat producers are not legally required to adequately disclose information about farm production methods. Advertising for animal products often utilises positive imagery such as healthy pigs or cows in endlessly green fields, which is a far cry from the reality of intensive animal farming that is commonplace today. Meaningless phrases such as ‘farm-fresh’ or ‘grown nature’s way’ can be slapped ad hoc on packaging, claims that are often neither accurate or verifiable.
In Australia, if an animal-derived product does not clearly state how it was produced, there’s a high chance it’s been sourced from a factory farm.
More than 700 million animals are raised on large-scale factory farms every year. On these farms, sentient beings are crammed together with no access to the outdoors for the entirety of their short lives. In the first few moments of their lives they are often subject to cruel, yet completely legal procedures, such as beak-clipping and tail-clipping.
Around Australia, small scale farming is on the decline. 70% of the market of chicken farms is now owned by just two corporations. A single company can have control over more than a million chickens, transforming these animals from individual sentient beings into units of production. Many of the chickens raised in these farms will never feel the sunshine on their feathers, nor be able to engage in the most basic of their natural behaviours such as dust-bathing.
A lack of regulated transparency means that these realities are often hidden from customer view, out of sight and out of mind.
Australia isn’t the first to become agitated by industries referring to plant-based alternatives as ‘meat’, and it most likely won’t be the last. Earlier this year, French MP’s voted to outlaw the use of terminology such as “vegetarian sausages”, “vegetarian mince” and “vegan bacon”. By introducing a mandatory labelling regime for all animal products clearly indicating the farm production method, we can ensure there is no confusion about the terminology of meat. If plant-based meat companies are to be denied the use of the word ‘meat’, then simultaneously, more transparency needs to be put in place for animal-derived products.