Better labeling of plant proteins could help, not hinder, the vegan industry

Senator McDonald said in a press release announcing the investigation that it was not about the ethics of consuming animal products but “the protection of a high-value industry and a clear distinction between the real thing and the alternatives so that consumers know exactly what they are. get. ”It seems reasonable. Letting the public know the truth about what they are buying is something the animal rights lobby has long demanded.

“Just like winemakers who want the exclusive use of certain wine names, I firmly believe that our Australian red meat industry should have the exclusive use of product names that have meant only one thing for decades. centuries, ”she said.

Terms like “sausage” and “burger” have also been used to describe vegan and vegetarian alternatives for centuries. According to at the BBC, the first soy sausage patent was granted in Britain about 100 years ago. Sanitarium produced canned “Nutmeat” after the First World War. And several hundred years earlier during the Song Dynasty, vegetarian sausages were created from soybeans in China.

However, exploring whether manufacturers of alternative proteins should state more clearly on their packaging that it is not animal meat is a reasonable line of inquiry. While all of the items I have seen in the supermarket indicate that they are vegan or plant based in some way or another, there is no consistency between brands as to how these labels are applied and it is reasonable to believe that someone who does not look too closely may be wrong. believe some of the items are actually beef, pork, or chicken when they pick them up.

Much of the food labeling issue in this case is about “information asymmetry”. This means that the consumer or seller knows more than the other about what is being bought. It is not a good thing. Governments, regulators and consumer groups go to great lengths to address this information gap in a range of industries.

When economists build models and try to figure out what’s going on and what the future holds, they typically assume that consumers and sellers behave rationally in the marketplace. But consumers need full and easy access to the information available to be able to behave rationally and to balance their options.

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This is where better labeling could be beneficial.

The survey also wants to take a closer look at the health implications of plant-based alternatives, which may contain a range of additives to resemble meat. Many store-bought products, both vegan and non-vegan, have unwanted health implications, and clearer information at all levels is helpful. What would be economically problematic would be if the labeling requirements on plant-based foods were too onerous compared to animal meat products, unfairly tilting consumer preferences in favor of either. the other.

But for those concerned, this investigation could kill the alternative protein industry altogether – it sounds too simplistic. It will take more than strict labeling requirements to reduce consumer demand when the ‘vegan meat’ category explodes, both in terms of variety and quality. More and more people are choosing to eat these products over and over again, and the industry’s success has hardly been due to a sudden increase in the number of people accidentally purchasing alternative proteins.

Either way, vegans and vegetarians who want to see the plant protein market succeed should remember that they will not, as a minority, be the ones driving the bulk of the growth.

It is flexitarians, who choose to eat plant-based on occasion for health, cost, environmental or ethical reasons, but who continue to eat meat, who are the real voters for this. $ 3 billion opportunity. Other full-time meat eaters might choose to be “every now and then” vegos in the near future. These are the people who are at risk of being turned off completely from herbal products if they feel fooled.

Dispelling confusing and unfounded suspicions about expanding the ‘alternative’ section on supermarket shelves might actually help the vegan industry, not hinder it.

Ross Gittins is on annual leave.

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Jamie Collins

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