Better labeling of vegetable protein could help, not hinder, the vegan industry

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Senator McDonald said in a press release announcing the investigation that this is not about the ethics of the consumption of animal products, but rather about “protecting a very valuable industry and also making a clear distinction between the real world and the alternatives Consumers know exactly what they are ”. Get “. This makes sense. The animal rights lobby has long been calling for the public to be told the truth about their purchases.

“Just as winemakers want some wine names to be used exclusively, I firmly believe that our Australian red meat industry should only use product names that have only meant one meaning for centuries,” she said.

Terms such as “sausage” and “burger” have also been used for centuries to describe vegan and vegetarian alternatives. According to the BBC, the UK’s first patent for soy sausage was granted about 100 years ago. After the First World War, the sanatorium produced “nut meat” in cans. And many hundreds of years ago, during the Song Dynasty, soy vegetarian sausages were made in China.

However, the question of whether alternative protein manufacturers have to make it clearer on their packaging that it is not animal meat is a reasonable question. While all of the items I’ve seen in the grocery store suggest in some way that they are vegan or plant-based, there is no match between brands in how these labels are affixed and it is reasonable to believe that someone who isn’t look too closely, mistakenly believe that some of the items are actually beef, pork, or chicken when they pick them up.

In this case, the issue of food labeling is primarily about “information asymmetry”. This means that either the consumer or the seller knows more about what is bought than the other. It is not a good thing. Governments, regulators and consumer organizations are working hard to fill this information gap in a number of industries.

When economists are putting models together trying to figure out what is going on and what the future holds, they usually assume that consumers and sellers are rational in the marketplace. But consumers need complete and easy access to the information available in order to be rational and weigh their options.

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Better labeling could be an advantage here.

The research also aims to examine the health effects of plant-based alternatives, which may contain a range of additives to make them appear meat-like. Many store-bought products, both vegan and non-vegan, have undesirable health effects, and clearer information across the board helps. It would be economically problematic if the labeling requirements for plant-based foods were too strict compared to animal meat products and if consumer preferences were wrongly distorted in favor of one or the other.

But for those affected, this investigation could wipe out the alternative protein sector altogether – that seems all too simple. It takes more than strict labeling regulations to dampen consumer demand when the “vegan meat” category explodes in terms of variety and quality. Time and time again, more and more people are choosing to eat these products, and the success of the sector has hardly been due to a sudden surge in people who accidentally buy alternative proteins.

Regardless, vegans and vegetarians who want to see the plant-based protein market successful must keep in mind that as a minority they will not be driving the bulk of the growth.

It is the flexitarians, who occasionally choose to eat plant-based for health, cost, environmental, or ethical reasons, but continue to eat some meat, who are the real voters for this $ 3 billion opportunity. Other full-time meat eaters may choose to be Vegos “someday” in the near future. These are the people at risk of completely turning off herbal products if they feel scammed.

Clearing up confusing and unfounded suspicions about the growing “alternative” section on supermarket shelves could actually help, not hinder, the vegan industry.

Ross Gittins is on annual leave.

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