A decision by a major supermarket to sell 'mince' made from plants in the red meat aisle has angered farm lobby groups and infuriated a National Party senator.
Woolworths has placed a faux-mince product, made from plants and vegetables, in the meat section of its supermarkets under the brand name Funky Fields.
Competitor Coles will next week start trialling one of the world's best-known beef patty substitutes, Beyond Burger, in some of its Victorian stores.
In April, France banned the use of meat and dairy-related terms on vegan and vegetarian plant-based alternatives, while major farm groups in the United States are currently lobbying the nation's Department of Agriculture to do the same.
The National Farmers Federation has previously been hesitant to call for blanket bans on such terms, but president Fiona Simson has changed her mind.
"France is a country that really values where a product comes from and how it has been created, so it is interesting they took the lead on this, and we now need to follow this.
"We need to work out what we are taking to government and what government's role is in this to make sure we can pursue a labelling regime that is beneficial to consumers and producers."
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Pull plant 'mince' from shelves: O'Sullivan
Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack have both stressed the importance of correct labelling on food.
"The labelling and positioning of all food products should accurately reflect what's in the packet," Mr Littleproud told the ABC.
Mr McCormack urged anyone confused to contact the ACCC.
"Mince is mince, mince is meat," he said.
"That's my interpretation of what mince is."
He said he had been assured the label did clearly state the product was "plant or vegetable based" but when asked whether he agreed with it being sold in the red meat section he replied, "Perhaps not".
But he also said there could be other external factors behind the placement of the new item, including the space in refrigerated areas.
National Party senator Barry O'Sullivan has gone further, demanding Woolworths remove the product and re-label it, so the Federal Government does not have to step in.
"Woolworths need to pull it from the shelves today," Senator Sullivan told the ABC.
Senator O'Sullivan is expecting food labelling to become increasingly complex, and said the major supermarkets had a responsibility to shoppers.
"Have we gotten to a position in a nanny state where the government has to go from shelf to shelf, line by line, on every product and commodity and create legislation? No-one wants that," he said.
"I call on Woolworths and any other retailers to deal with this themselves, don't put us in a situation where government has to start to buy into more regulation or legislation."
Woolworths did not tell the ABC why it had decided to sell a plant product in the meat section, or respond to questions about claims it was misleading to consumers.
"We know some customers are looking to eat less traditional protein in their diets … in response we are pleased to range the [minced product] in our meat section to meet this demand," a Woolworths spokesperson said.
While farm lobby groups were hoping Woolworths was only trialling the move, the supermarket giant confirmed to the ABC that it is a permanent decision. Woolworths would not say whether other faux meat products would be relocated to the chilled meat section.
Earlier this week the UK's second-largest supermarket, Sainsbury's, announced that from the end of the month it will start selling a plant-based mince, made by Danish company Naturli Foods, in the chiller section of 400 stores.
"This is the first time consumers can buy a 100 per cent plant-based mince product that looks and tastes like minced beef, replace minced beef in all recipes, and be found in the cold counter next to the traditional beef," Henrik Lung from Naturli Foods said.
Naturli Foods is also the company behind the Funky Fields products.
Coles said it would place its new range of plant-based Beyond Burger patties, which have a similar taste and texture to traditional burgers, in its frozen section rather than the meat aisle, when it starts trialling them next week.
"Our chilled health range has seen double-digit growth with the most popular products including falafel balls, kale burgers and tofu," a Coles spokesperson said.
"We have seen demand significantly grow for vegetarian products in the past 12 months."
Farm lobby fury over 'meat' claims
The developments both in Australia and abroad have angered the Cattle Council of Australia (CCA), the nation's peak lobby group for producers of grass-fed beef.
"By placing the product within the defined meat protein cabinet the consumer is led to believe that the product is of equivalent source and this placement may mislead consumers," CCA chief executive Margo Andreas said.
The labelling of plant-based meat substitutes has also upset the Australian Meat Industry Council's Patrick Hutchinson, who said the entire production supply chain needed to work together to address the issue.
"What we will be doing as an industry, farmers and processors, feedlots and retailers, is continuing our push to legislators to ensure product is accurately described," he said.
Mr Hutchinson said the livestock industry could not interfere in where a supermarket decided to place a product, but he said it could lobby for meat alternative products to be labelled differently, so consumers were not duped.
"It is a problem and that is why we want accurate descriptions, because these products are not meat, but we can't tell supermarkets where it can or can't sell product," he said.
"This is a case of [plant-based meat companies] utilising terminology to describe something aligned to meat because they can't sell it if they describe it accurately.
"That [faux-mince] product is a heap of different plants — wheat, mushroom and coconut, mixed together with binding agents, then beetroot juice to make it red — so it should be sold for what it is."
Senator O'Sullivan accused plant-based meat makers of leveraging off of the red meat sector's marketing edge.Winter Price Coat Black Adia Best wqBXF7n4vw
"They are piggy-backing on the back of industries that have invested hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars, to get their product identified for what it is," he said.