Grain Producers Australia says government regulators must monitor plant-based protein product labelling with vigilance, to prevent the spread of misinformation and false advertising that promotes community mistrust in agriculture and undermines investment.
However, GPA Chair and WA grain producer, Barry Large, said the real test will ultimately be consumers, who digest these products and adjudicate commercially with spending choices.
“Consumers will choose not to purchase plant-based protein products again, if they’re duped by misleading labels with false claims that badmouth our farmers and leave a sour taste in their mouths,” he said.
His comments responded to the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee releasing its inquiry report this week, ‘Don't mince words: definitions of meat and other animal products’. It made several recommendations, supported by GPA’s policy on plant-based proteins.
This includes the Committee recommending the Federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, in partnership with the CSIRO, should examine measures to strengthen the plant-based protein product sector’s capacity to source its products from Australian grown produce.
It also recommended this approach to support investment opportunities into the product sector’s manufacturing infrastructure, to foster competitiveness and market opportunities on the international market.
“GPA backs this investment approach with the Grains Research and Development Corporation supporting projects focused on delivering commercial crop breeding improvements with genuine value-adding opportunities for Australian grain producers,” Mr Large said.
“This includes current work to develop new soybean varieties for the Australian marketplace with potential benefits such as; increased grain yield and adaptation to different target production zones; and better disease resistance and grain quality.
“If our farmers are growing and selling Australian soybeans to produce the protein concentrate needed to make these plant-based protein products, to feed domestic or global consumers, it means local manufacturers are not importing this concentrate from overseas, that’s been made with grain grown by our global competitors.
“Growing grains locally to feed an increased manufacturing sector is an appetising way to bolster the economic strength and sustainability of Australian grain growing communities.”
GPA Grower Director Mark Schilling said if the domestic market is forecast to reach $6.6 billion by 2030 with 6000 jobs, as plant-based protein manufacturers claim, policy and regulatory frameworks need to ensure they incentivise and optimise these potential outcomes and shared benefits.
He said many grain producers are also livestock producers, and recognise the value-adding opportunities that go with the increased global and local demand for natural, animal-based proteins and therefore the subsequent demand for quality Australian feed-stock grains.
“That’s why GPA supports a cohesive, strategic approach to promote innovation and product development for plant-based proteins, to ensure we capture and optimise mutual growth opportunities, while encouraging supply chain investment,” he said.
“However, attempts to undermine meat consumption, with false labelling or alarmist misleading claims about the purported benefits of certain dietary choices, especially in regards to human health or the environment, creates needless conflict and confusion that’s bitter-sweet for everyone.”
The Senate Committee also recommended the Australian Government should develop a mandatory regulatory framework for labelling plant-based protein products, in consultation with representatives from traditional and plant-based protein sectors, food service industry and retailers.
However, GPA’s policy supports the development of a voluntary code, to clearly define the allowable terms and images when companies are branding and marketing their plant-based products, with a review of the code’s effectiveness, to occur within a set period of time.
If the plant-based industry continues to mis-represent themselves as being equivalent to animal-based products, GPA’s policy supports removing food standards exemptions which allow plant-based protein products to infer, either with words or images, that they’re meat or dairy.
The Committee recommended 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: a definition of plant-based protein products; and minimum compositional requirements for plant-based protein products.
“Those spreading misinformation, to the detriment of farmers, are clearly on notice about the level of transparency and trust needed to maintain social license with consumers and have been warned by the inquiry’s findings,” Mr Large said.
GPA also noted inquiry comments by CSIRO Director, Health & Biosecurity, Dr Michael Robertson, about the National Soybean Breeding Program and potential for increased local soybean production.
Dr Robertson said, ‘…with the market cues we're receiving from companies like v2food and others, we believe there could be an opportunity to quadruple the area of soybean in northern New South Wales and Southern Queensland…there are huge opportunities for growing that little industry into something much more significant and bringing benefits to regional Australia as a consequence’.
The report said a similar benefit was identified for the oilseed sector, with the advancement of manufacturing technology that enables the extraction of plant protein from canola meal that is suitable for the human food chain.
Mr Large said GPA was also a participant in the Minister for Agriculture’s Industry Working Group on plant-based alternatives labelling and marketing, comprising representatives from across the agriculture, retail and the plant-based sector – and chaired by the National Farmers’ Federation.
“GPA would like to thank the Senate Committee Chair, Queensland Senator Susan McDonald, and Deputy Chair, WA Senator Glenn Sterle, and other Committee Members, for their work on this inquiry and recommendations to support Australian grain producers and our communities,” he said.
“We welcome any opportunity to continue working and engaging with government and other stakeholders on these outcomes, in future.”