Queensland LNP Senator Susan McDonald will take her message to the sold-out Rural Press Club event that plant-based products aping as traditional meat from an animal are deceiving consumers with vague claims and ambiguous marketing.
The senator wants the rules tightened so that consumers have full information as to what the products contain and how they are produced.
“People who buy animal-based meat do so because they know what’s in it. They understand its nutritional value and the benefits it will bring to them and their families,” McDonald said.
“To have another product that is manufactured, which has been subjected to a really complex set of changes and additives, such as heat, pressure and chemical treatment, just so it can taste more like meat, is not something I think most people would want to eat or give to their families if they knew full well the process involved in getting that product to market.”
As previously profiled by InQueensland, McDonald hails from a family with significant beef holdings and associated businesses in north-west Queensland.
Before entering the federal arena, where she sits with the Nationals in the Senate, McDonald ran her family-owned Super Butcher chain as chief executive until the south-east Queensland business was offloaded in March this year.
Despite criticisms she has vested interests in seeing the beef industry protected from competition, McDonald has been resolute in pursuing and interrogating the marketing tactics of plant-based meat manufacturers via a senate inquiry for the past nine months.
And she’s not finished yet.
With her Rural Press Club address serving as a rallying cry among the faithful to intensify her efforts, another front in the campaign has opened up on her southern flank.
Researchers at the University of Queensland’s St Lucia campus are working on a project in tandem with US commercial interests to make plant-based meat products taste and feel more like traditional, animal derived meat, once they pass the lips of consumers.
The research team involves food scientists and chemical engineers, who are consumed by the goal of getting plant-based products to taste and behave like meat when chewed and ingested.
It’s something they refer to as “texture mechanics”.
Lead researcher Associate Professor Heather Smyth, posed the objective in a press release issued by UQ this week:
“Are there different ways of pre-treating plant protein in a way that makes it behave more meat-like in the first place, rather than just compensating burger formulations with various synthetic additives?” she asked.
“This might include fermenting them, extracting them differently or structurally modifying the plant-protein.
“Making the plant protein behave differently as an ingredient is really the space where we can have those breakthroughs, and already we’re seeing some interesting results.”
The three-year project is supported financially by the Australian Research Council, the primary non-medical research funding agency of the Australian Government.
Resources for the project are provided by the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation based at UQ’s St Lucia campus, whose major financial backer is the Queensland Government.
McDonald rejects the suggestion that taxpayer funds are actively being used to undermine the Australian livestock industry, worth a collective $69.9 billion in annual turnover last year.
McDonald says consumers should have choice when it comes to food. Her beef is with the messaging and the marketing.
“What I don’t like is products that are packaged and marketed to look exactly the same as the product it is trying to replace, especially when it bears no resemblance to that product in terms of how it is composed and produced,” she said.
“It’s misleading conduct, it doesn’t stand up to the pub test and to scrutiny of what’s fair and reasonable.
“At the moment we’re seeing packaging on plant-based burger patties in our supermarkets with pictures of horns and cattle grazing in paddocks – and that’s just not on.”
But Australian Meat Industry Council CEO Patrick Hutchinson sees the issue differently, claiming on social media platform LinkedIn that UQ and other research institutions continue to stab the industry in the back and should have their funding reviewed.
“The Australian meat industry (beef, sheepmeat, goat, pork, poultry, seafood) has paid millions in research investment on our products. Now these same universities are taking monies to blatantly mimic our product,” he wrote.
“Why would an industry of our size want to engage with universities and other research facilities that want to copy our product, without any recourse to the industry that has invested millions in the names and development of the products these venture capital factories now covet?”
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