Farmers claim Aussies being ‘duped’ into buying ‘fake meat’: inquiry

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Aussie farmers say shoppers are being tricked and misled by fake meat products, mistakenly forking out money on products such as ‘plant-based chicken’ and ‘vegetarian beef’ believing they are made from real meat.

Poultry, beef, pork and seafood farmers told a senate committee on Thursday they had received many complaints from consumers reporting they had purchased products labelled as ‘meat’ with pictures of animals on the packaging only to realise the product was made entirely from vegetable protein after they arrived home.

“We have received numerous complaints from everyday consumers reporting that they have been effectively duped by the deceptive labelling of plant-based manufactured protein products into buying products they had no intention or interest in purchasing and which they did not enjoy,” Australian Chicken Meat Federation head Vivien Kite said.

In a survey conducted by Australian Pork Limited, 50 per cent of Australians who viewed a package labelled ‘plant-based roast pork’ believed the product was made of real pork.

“This confusion poses an unacceptable risk to the reputation of our industry and its products, as a trusted provider of nutritious and ethically produced protein,” a submission to the inquiry read.

Australian Pork Limited found 50 per cent of shoppers mistook the plant-based pork for real pork.
Camera IconAustralian Pork Limited found 50 per cent of survey respondents mistook this plant-based pork for real pork. PlantAsia. Credit: Supplied

Seafood Industry Australia cited a similar study by research company Pollinate, which found that out of 1000 Australians shown images of plant-based meat product packaging, 61 per cent mistook at least one of the products as containing animal meat.

Elderly people, individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds and people who spoke a language other than English at home were found to be the most likely to mistakenly identify the vegetarian products as real meat.

“It is concerning that vulnerable Australians are disproportionately impacted by misleading plant-based protein labelling,” Seafood Industry Australia chief Veronica Papacosta said.

Despite the farmers concerns, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has remained resistant to revising laws and regulations surrounding the packaging of meat-free vegetarian substitutes.

The 'fake meat' products used by research company Pollinate in their study.
Camera IconThe 'fake meat' products used by research company Pollinate in their study. Pollinate. Credit: Supplied

The ACCC said it had not received a sufficient number of complaints and current labelling of plant-based meat alternative products was “unlikely to mislead consumers”.

Alternative proteins think tank FoodFrontier cited its own study, which concluded the majority of vegetable protein products did not have misleading packaging.

“Eighty-five per cent use two or more terms to show they are meat free and more than half use three or more terms,” FoodFrontier researchers told NCA NewsWire.

“Contrary to meat industry claims, only a small portion (8 per cent) use an unmodified animal meat term in the product name.”

FoodFrontiers said only x contained x. Picture: Vegie Delights
Camera IconFoodFrontiers said only 8 per cent of vegetable protein products contained an unmodified animal meat term on the packaging. Vegie Delights. Credit: Supplied

But the meat farmers remained adamant that new, soy-based ‘meat alternative’ products were undermining their brand and causing confusion for Aussie shoppers.

“If the situation was reversed and we were selling meat products and labelling them as vegetarian products there would be much angst about such misleading labelling,” Australian Lot Feeders’ Association president Bryce Camm said.

“The term ‘beef’ or ‘meat’, if used to describe products that are not from animal protein, is simply not truth in labelling.”

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