Meat growers back beefed-up reputation to overcome plant-based alternatives

Zach RelphCountryman
A Beyond Meat burger paddy.
Camera IconA Beyond Meat burger paddy. Credit: Daniel Wilkins

While the popularity of plant-based proteins is growing, Australia’s cattle industry is confident its beef’s strong reputation will outweigh the rising trend. Zach Relph reports:

Los Angeles food giant Beyond Meat catapulted to prominence in 2016 when its plant-based burger joined beef, poultry and pork in the meat section at supermarkets across the United States.

Last month the company, backed by Melbourne-born NBA All-Star Kyrie Irving, strengthened its grip on the Australian meat alternative market with its product line now sold at Coles stores nationwide.

It was followed by Auckland-based Sunfed launching its flagship “chicken-free chicken”, with the product stocked at Coles stores throughout Australia since June 21.

Despite Beyond Meat and Sunfed’s respective foods aiming to emulate beef and chicken’s taste and texture, Cattle Council of Australia chief executive Margo Andrae maintains livestock producers are not under threat.

Ms Andrae, who is set to leave her CCA post and take the chief executive reins at Australian Pork Limited next month, said the country’s reputable beef product would withstand the increasing alternative meat trend.

“Australia exports over 70 per cent of its beef to international markets and global demand for protein is going to continue to increase as the world’s middle-class grows,” she told Countryman.

“So there’s room for meat consumption to continue to grow, even if the uptake of plant-based meat-imitation products also increases.

Cattle Council of Australia boss Margo Andrae.
Camera IconCattle Council of Australia boss Margo Andrae.

“As far as Australian red meat producers are concerned, the credentials of our product are incredibly strong.

“Australian red meat is a pure product, raised naturally by rural Australian families and with a disease-free status which is the envy of all other exporting nations.”

Laboratory-grown proteins are also gaining traction with aviation tycoon Richard Branson and Microsoft founder Bill Gates among prominent figures to back cell-based food research.

The duo have both thrown support behind Memphis Meats, a Californian food technology company aiming to produce meat products in a laboratory through biotechnology.

MLA domestic market manager Graeme Yardy acknowledged meat alternatives, particularly plant-based food, had been thrust into the public spotlight.

However, he said the concept was not new and had been magnified by more companies increasing the rate of investment in production methods to replicate animal meat.

“Most experts predict that plant-based, cell-based and animal proteins will co-exist, as each offers differentiated attributes and benefits,” Mr Yardy said.

“While plant-based products boast vegan (and) vegetarian attributes, lab-grown meat is a different proposition — it is meat, but produced in a different way.

“It asks consumers to accept not a substitute, but an artificial replication.”

Under Australian food standards, meat is interpreted as “the whole or part of the carcass of any buffalo, camel, cattle, deer, goat, hare, pig, poultry, rabbit or sheep slaughtered”.

Plant-based burger paddies are rising in popularity.
Camera IconPlant-based burger paddies are rising in popularity. Credit: Daniel Wilkins

Food products may not use the word “meat” on packaging in Australia without meeting the definition.

Ms Andrae echoed Mr Yardy and said “clear labelling” was critical to ensure consumers were aware what was a real meat or an imitation.

“All the facts must be clear for customers to see in terms of chemicals used to manufacture the product, where the product was made and what countries ingredients were sourced from,” she said.

“The term “beef” is well protected under current domestic legal framework and any lab-grown product being described as “beef” would be at high risk of breaching Australian laws.”

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