It is understandable why livestock farmers feel threatened by meat alternative products and want strict rules, but we should be careful of putting in place draconian rules on this growing industry.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency recently announced it was seeking greater clarity in federal guidelines for the labels on “simulated” meat and poultry products.
Online public consultations are taking place until Dec. 3, with Ottawa seeking “to clarify what constitutes simulated meat or poultry products.”
This is important because the fake meat, or near-meat industry, is not going away anytime soon.
The National Research Council of Canada is predicting protein demand to double by 2053, with alternatives making up about a third of the market.
Within two years, the plant-based protein market is expected to reach US$10.8 billion.
It’s good the CFIA is recognizing that, and looking to clarify definitions.
“The consumer perceptions of these foods will advise industry on how they can better position their products in a manner that is truthful and not misleading, as required by the regulations, and provide information that supports informed buying decisions for consumers,” said the CFIA in its news release on the matter.
Guidelines currently apply only to “simulated meat” products specifically made to resemble actual meat products and require labelling to state that it is simulated and contains no meat.
At the heart of the issue is a wider discussion on whether a product marketing itself as fake beef or poultry can actually be marketed using words like beef or poultry.
What makes a burger a burger? What makes milk, milk?
Of course, there are several ways to answer those questions, many of them rooted in science — but that isn’t relevant to consumers who are often looking for a vegetarian alternative that looks and tastes similar to its meat counterpart.
It would be silly to tell companies making beef alternatives that they can’t market their product as tasting like beef. Consumers are looking for exactly that.
The European Union is undertaking a discussion on the matter and considering laws that would prevent vegetarian products from being labelled as “burgers” or “sausages.”
Already the EU has banned terms like “vegan cheese” and “soy milk,” on the grounds that non-dairy products should not be marketed in a way that suggests dairy is involved.
I hope the conversation doesn’t go that far in Canada but am glad the CFIA is doing consultations to see what others think.
But it is naïve to suggest consumers buying fake meat are unaware they are buying fake meat.
Most grocers stock these products in entirely different sections than their meat products. It’s not as if a shopper is staring at two products that look like ground beef and forced to figure out which one contains meat, and which one doesn’t.
How much of a difference is it going to make to cattle producers if they’re competing with “veggie patties” rather than veggie burgers?
There is an argument to be made on the basis of nutritional value. If a meat alternative doesn’t offer the same level of protein as its natural counterpart, it may be worthwhile to state that on a label, but simply legislating fake meat into the realm of “protein food” is a disservice to consumers.
Given the explosion of the alternative protein industry, these are conversations worth having — and guidelines worth firming up — because there is a middle ground, and meat alternatives are here to stay.
D.C. Fraser is Glacier Farm Media’s Ottawa correspondent. Reach out to him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.