Australian food standards and labelling: Anger over ‘fake food’

Taken from The Weekly Times, Author: Natalie Kotsios

THE time has come to overhaul Australia’s food standards and labelling as more and more alternative food products enter the market, farm lobbies say.

From plant-based “meat” and nut milks to vegan “honey”, industry groups say stricter regulation on how those terms are used and more truth in labelling are needed so consumers know exactly what they’re buying.

The call has been heeded, with Nationals deputy leader Bridget McKenzie promising to put it on the agenda at the next meeting of the Australia and New Zealand food regulation ministerial forum.

“The fact is it’s not milk if it doesn’t come from a cow, it’s not from the dairy industry so it shouldn’t be able to be called milk,” said Senator McKenzie, who chairs the food forum as federal Minister for Rural Health.

“If you’re buying fake food, you need to know you’re buying fake food.”

It comes after The Weekly Times reported the makers of a vegan “honey” — which contains bee-pollinated apple syrup — raised the ire of authorities for breaching the national Food Standards Code in its labelling. The code contains clear definitions of what can be called milk, meat and honey, but exceptions to the rule have allowed for products such as soy or nut milks.

Lobby group Dairy Connect has been pushing for a review of the standards to remove those exceptions. Similar restrictions are already in place in Europe and the US.

“The actual definition for (milk) is the mammary secretion of an animal — it doesn’t talk about lactating almonds,” Dairy Connect chief executive Shaughn Morgan said. Mr Morgan argued plant-based products did not have the same nutritional value as cow’s milk, yet traded off the association.

National Farmers’ Federation president Fiona Simson said vegan products were “a good thing” for chickpea and pulse producers, but said food labelling warranted closer examination.

“People want labels that reflect what they’re buying and that should drive any sort of regulation — we want to be clear what the product is,” she said.

Senator McKenzie also hit back at terms such as “clean meat” being used to describe plant-based protein, arguing it was misleading and derided farming. “If you’re saying not using cattle to make ‘meat’ is somehow cleaner than meat coming from a beast, it puts farming in a negative light,” she said.