Voice of Real Australia: Fake meat debate is a welcome distraction

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The cattle industry is fiercely protective of its clean, green reputation.

The cattle industry is fiercely protective of its clean, green reputation.

The Senate's investigation into food labelling began in the Northern Territory this week.

Senators, and there were only two in this online discussion, want to know whether labelling needs to be changed to better draw a distinction between plant-based protein and meat.

The argument seems pretty simple. Outback pastoralist David Connolly told the inquiry how simple it was.

"You should not be able to call your product beef when it simply isn't."

Mr Connolly is the president of the NT Cattlemen's Association so his opinion holds weight.

The Territory has previous few industries and this one is worth more than $1 billion each year to this fringe benefit tax dependent economy.

The Senators - chair Susan McDonald and the NT's own Malarndirri McCarthy - were also told a similar food labelling issue had arisen decades earlier and been resolved quite simply.

The oilseeds industry blossomed on new kind of butter but they didn't call it that - it was margarine, and people were happy with that.

That's not quite how I remember it, there was a big debate at the time, but for here we are sticking to simple solutions.

The inquiry was also told the fake meat crowd should not be using images of livestock on their packaging.

They were trying leverage off the hard-won reputation of an entirely different industry, the inquiry was told.

It all makes sense when you put it simply like this but of course it isn't, not much in modern life is.

One of the nation's most respected regulators, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, has already told the inquiry it was basically wasting its time.

In its own submission to the inquiry, the ACCC said there was no food label confusion, they would have expected a lot more complaints if there was.

A public debate began in earnest this week on food labels need to change.

A public debate began in earnest this week on food labels need to change.

Mr Connolly and others took a swipe at the ACCC for being out of touch.

There have been several hundred submissions to the inquiry.

The first hearing heard from three of those - all of whom supported the beef industry's position.

The alternative protein industry will have its turn. They also say there's no consumer confusion.

Even if the "this product is plant-based" is in smaller type on the packaging, it is still clearly there.

But it will be interesting to hear how they answer these simple propositions.

Why do they call their products beef, chicken, dairy and not something else? Not margarine of course, but something of that ilk.

I for one find the argument interesting, it is happening across the world, not just here in Australia. Very often it ends up in the courts.

Mr Connolly was asked when the rise of plant-based meats had any impact on his cattle men (and women). He said pastoralists already believed their reputations had been tarnished.

Mr Connolly said the fake meat industry had set out to label graziers as climate destroyers.

His members had not taken kindly to that, they were ultra protective of their industry's clean and green image.

An image carefully constructed over many generations and fiercely protected. Hence their involvement in the inquiry.

As we said, it is a fascinating debate. It is a welcome diversion from the troubles of our COVID-life.

The inquiry is scheduled to present its final report to government early next year.

Pandemic restrictions aside the Senate committee has promised public hearings in every Australia state and territory to air the issue.

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