First there were the milk-less “mylk” wars, now meatless meat producers are in a beef with the livestock industry.
In 2017, industry groups called for a ban on the word “milk” in plant-based products: dairy farmers decried “fake milk”, lest any of us in a caffeine-deprived state mistake nut mylk in the supermarket fridge for its mammary secreted counterpart.
New research shows we are not being misled or tricked into buying plant-based products.Credit:
Now, the livestock industry is calling for a ban on plant-based food products using words like “meat”, “chicken”, “bacon”, and “tofurky” on their packaging.
In a report released last month, they also argued against plant-based products being displayed on the same supermarket shelves as meat and against the use of pictures of cows and poultry on packaging.
The reason some in the meat industry are having a cow is that apparently the average “Australian on the street” can’t tell the difference and might mistake tofurky for the real thing. God forbid.
To be fair, plant-based meat companies (and increasingly big meat companies who are rolling out meat alternatives) are putting in a lot of effort to make their products replicate the appearance, mouth-feel and experience of eating meat, from a genetically engineered yeast that makes plant-based burgers appear to “bleed” and small, solid chunks of coconut oil to mimic the appearance of animal fat.
But back to the apparent problem of packaging and labelling, are we really so confused?
No, according to new national survey of Australian adults by the Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF) and the University of Technology, Sydney.
The majority of respondents (76 per cent) ate meat three times a week.
Despite about a quarter (26 per cent) saying they would like to cut back on their meat intake, they were not being misled or tricked into buying plant-based products.
In fact, only four per cent of people surveyed inadvertently purchased a plant-based product because of confusion with labels. Of those, 67 per cent indicated this was because they were in a hurry and did not read the product label.
“There are all these claims that have been made but haven’t taken the consumer’s perspective into account. What does the consumer actually think?” asks Dr Tani Khara, a research consultant at ISF, who says that there are “no concrete steps that are immediately pending” as a result of the report.
“We found that the use of imaging was potentially more confusing but labels were not so much of a concern because labels were qualified with ‘plant-based’ meat or ‘plant-based’ chicken.”
Indeed, proponents argue that meatless meats and nut-based milks are labelled as such because they help people understand what they are buying: they are functional definitions. So even though an almond doesn’t lactate, so can’t be milked (but, I mean cute visual), nut mylks, for people who can’t have or don’t want dairy, serve the same function: they provide nutrition, can be slurped straight out of the container or poured on your cereal.
“Many consumers of plant-based milks choose them because they want milk but not the dairy-related moral or dietary problems that come with it,” explains Dan Weijers and Nick Munn from the University of Waikato. “If many people believed that almond milks contained dairy, the companies would quickly change the name to almond juice.”
Similarly, for people who don’t want to eat meat or who want to reduce their intake, plant-based meats provide a functional substitute, and the labels serve to indicate this.
“A significant proportion of the Australian population is looking at cutting back meat for ethical or health or environmental reasons, or all of the above,” says Khara, “Plant-based meats help make that transition easier.”
The majority of respondents (64 per cent) in the UTS/ISF survey said terms like “meat-free” and “meatless” helped them to differentiate if products contain meat or not.
And contrary to concerns from the National Farmers’ Federation, the Australian Farm Institute think tank told the inquiry it could not find any evidence that existing definitions of alternative protein products were causing economic harm.
Still, given the dairy industry has already lost a significant share of its sales to plant-based milks, perhaps their fears are valid, suggests philosopher Peter Singer: The meat industry is “running scared”, he says, and “it has everything to do with fear of losing sales.”
But, he argues, there are far more pertinent discussions to be having, like the fact that meat consumption at the current levels is fuelling climate change; meat accounts for nearly 60 per cent of all greenhouse gases from food production.
If we don’t reduce the amount we eat, Singer says, we will not be able to stop the increasingly familiar cycle of extreme drought followed by extreme flooding. “It will only get worse.”
As we’re facing a national emergency that will take years to recover from, considering how people can easily access healthy meat alternatives might be a better use of our energy, Khara says.
“We need to be looking at reducing our greenhouse gas emissions given the atmospheric changes and erratic weather patterns… it is a significant issue and Australia has one of the world’s highest levels of meat consumption.
“We’ve got these looming bigger problems we ought to be focused on not label misappropriation, which our survey confirmed is not an issue.”
Make the most of your health, relationships, fitness and nutrition with our Live Well newsletter. Get it in your inbox every Monday.
Most Viewed in Lifestyle
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article