The Australian Protein Council (APC), the representative group for Australia and New Zealand’s alternative protein sector, has quietly released its Industry Guidelines for the labelling of plant-based food products.

The release of the voluntary guidelines follows a recent Senate Inquiry into the labelling practices of plant-based food items. The inquiry, headed by Senator Susan McDonald, examined whether or not consumers are being misled by practices that include using meat-based phrases (eg sausage, mince, beef etc) and related images on plant-based products.

The inquiry released its finding in February, recommending the development of a mandatory regulatory framework for the labelling of plant-based products, as well as a National Information Standard that defines and restricts the use of meat category brands to animal protein products.

The recommendations were largely rejected by the alt protein industry, which – with the support of Woolworths, the ACCC and Food Standards Australia New Zealand – argued that consumers are not being misled by current labelling practices.

APC, together with industry think tank Food Frontier, argued that voluntary guidelines are a preferable alternative, claiming that more restrictive regulations threaten to hinder the growth of the plant-based category.

“This [voluntary] approach follows standard policy principles to minimise ‘red tape’ and allow a sector to self-regulate, with government intervening only in the event of demonstrable market failure,” Thomas King, founder of Food Frontier, said at the time.

“A regulatory approach in the absence of credible, objective and justifiable evidence threatens the $6 billion that the plant-based sector could contribute to the Australian economy as projected by CSIRO.”

Voluntary guidelines released

These voluntary guidelines have now been released, developed by APC members in consultation with experts in consumer law, food regulation and government.

According to an APC statement, the guidelines “support clarity and consistency of labelling across the category” and “reflect emerging international norms for on-pack product labelling successfully implemented across large markets including the US and UK.”

The guidelines provide advice on the use and prominence of qualifiers (including ‘plant-based’, ‘meatless’, ‘meat-free’, ‘veggie’, ‘free-from’ etc) and product imagery on packaging.

They include:

  • Plant-based products should include at least one of the following:
    * A suffix such as -less, -style, -free, -flavour (eg beef-free, beef-less), and/or
    * A prefix/qualifier (eg free from x, no-x, where x is a common meat term such as chicken, beef etc)

    Breed specific terms like ‘Wagyu’ and ‘Angus’ should be avoided.
  • The use of deliberately misspelt common meat terms (eg Chick’n) should also be appropriately qualified with an ingredient qualifier term
  • Product format terms like nuggets, tenders, mince, sausage, pie, schnitzel etc should be qualified
  • The product’s packaging should clearly indicate its animal-free contents by including qualifiers within the product name, in a prominent position on the front-of-pack, and/or in the brand name.
  • Depictions of animals shouldn’t give a reasonable consumer the impression that the product contains animal ingredients. They should make up an insignificant proportion of the label, no more than 15 percent on the front-of-pack.

Click here to read the guidelines in full.

The APC is recommending the guidelines are adopted by all companies with relevant retail products in Australia and New Zealand within the next 24 months.

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