Senate Inquiry recommendations on the labelling of plant-based proteins “largely ignored evidence” showing that current labelling requirements are sufficient, says the Alternative Proteins Council (APC).
The Inquiry, Definitions of Meat and Other Animal Products, examined the labelling and product placement of plant-based meat alternatives, accepting submissions from beef, poultry and pork farmers, seafood sellers, dairy companies, consumer advocates and representatives from the plant-protein sector, including v2food, Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat.
Chaired by Senator Susan McDonald, the Inquiry released nine recommendations, including that the federal government develop a mandatory regulatory framework for the labelling of plant-based protein products.
“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’ in much smaller letters,” McDonald said.
However, in their contributions to the Inquiry, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), Australian Food and Grocery Council and Woolworths each stated that there is no substantive evidence of widespread consumer confusion caused by current labelling practices.
Currently, all plant-based products are required to include terms like ‘plant-based’, ‘pork-free’ and ‘vegetarian’ on their labels to reinforce their meat-free contents.
Additionally, the Inquiry also heard that in March 2021 an industry-led working group by the Minister for Agriculture reviewed the same labelling issue and recommended that voluntary guidelines be implemented.
The Alternative Protein Council (APC) released a statement after the recommendations were released, arguing that they’ve “largely ignored evidence that Australian consumers understand current labels”, adding they rely on “a heavy-handed approach that would have broad sweeping implications on a growing sector.”
While there are also recommendations to support the plant-based industry and foster investment, Thomas King, CEO of independent think tank, Food Frontier, says additional red tape could significantly hinder the burgeoning sector’s growth.
“Enforcing restrictive regulation on an emerging industry as this report calls for, especially in light of no credible and substantive evidence to justify it, is a threat to the Australian food industry’s competitiveness in a changing global market,” King said.
“This matter has now been considered by government on four separate occasions – with the most consistent recommendation being either no action required, or at minimum introducing voluntary guidelines.”
The APC is urging policymakers to consider the evidence submitted to the Inquiry that supports voluntary guidelines.
“The APC has consulted with the relevant regulatory and industry bodies, including the ACCC, to develop voluntary labelling guidelines that provide a clear framework for companies retailing plant-based products in Australia and New Zealand,” the APC’s statement reads.
Due for release in the coming weeks, the guidelines include detailed advice on the use of qualifiers and product imagery on packaging, as well as a timeline for industry adoption and a commitment to review in three years.
“This 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. 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.”
List of Recommendations
Recommendation 1 – The committee recommends the Australian Government develops a mandatory regulatory framework for the labelling of plant-based protein products, in consultation with representatives from the traditional and plant-based protein sectors, foodservice industry and retailer
Recommendation 2 – The committee recommends the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission reviews the placement of plant-based protein products in retailers’ stores, including online platforms.
Recommendation 3 – The committee recommends the Australian Government ensures the application of a mandatory regulatory framework is applicable to cultured meat products, in preparation for the introduction of those products onto the Australian market.
Recommendation 4 – The committee recommends that, as part of its current review and modernisation of the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Act 1999, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) initiate a review in consultation with industry, of section 1.1.1—13(4) of the FSANZ Code and recommend exempting its application to named meat, seafood and dairy category brands.
Recommendation 5 – The committee recommends, on conclusion and application of the review of the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Code, that Food Standards Australia New Zealand develops guidelines to inform labelling and marketing practices for manufacturers of plant-based protein products.
Recommendation 6 – The committee recommends the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission develops a National Information Standard that defines and restricts the use of meat category brands to animal protein products. This standard should include guidance on the use of livestock imagery for labelling and marketing of plant-based protein products.
Recommendation 7 – The committee recommends the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, in partnership with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, examines measures to:
1) strengthen the plant-based protein product sector’s capacity to source its products from Australian grown produce; and
2) support investment opportunities into the Australian plant-based alternative product sector’s manufacturing infrastructure to foster competitiveness and market opportunities on the international market.
Recommendation 8 – The committee recommends the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment ensures that the plant-based protein product sector is supported to contribute to the Ag2030 goal of achieving a $100 billion agricultural sector by 2030.
Recommendation 9 – The committee recommends that, as part of its review of the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Act 1999, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), initiates consultations with stakeholders about amending the FSANZ Code to include:
1) a definition of plant-based protein products; and
2) minimum compositional requirements for plant-based protein products.