In recent weeks the Dairy Companies Association succeeded in making Vitasoy pull a television advertisement implying the plant-based product was nutritionally compatible with dairy without making it clear it was a manufactured, plant-based beverage.
And the Poultry Industry Association had asked the Commerce Commission to rule if packaging of the vegetable-based product Chicken-free Chicken made by Auckland firm Sunfed misled consumers.
Executive director Michael Brooks asked if Sunfed was misleading consumers by using an image of a chicken and the wording “Chicken-free Chicken, Wild Meaty Chunks” on the product’s box.
“The product has a picture of a chicken on the front of it and refers to wild meaty chunks.
“In both cases we are questioning if it meets the legislation.”
Brook said all food producers had to adhere to the same labelling laws so consumers were not misinformed.
Dairy association chief executive Kimberly Crewther said the offending television advertisement panned over soy and coconut crops and rice paddies using the term “milk, milk as far as the eye can see”.
It later suggested the nutritional value of plant-based beverages was comparable with dairy.
“The perception given was that it was a natural product when it is the extract of a manufacturing process.”
When challenged, Vitasoy agreed during mediation to withdraw the advertisement before the Advertising Standards Authority was asked to rule.
Crewther said her association would assess on a case-by-case basis the use of dairy terms by plant manufacturers but would be especially protective of dairy milk’s acknowledged nutritional values.
Dairy companies supported the definition of milk and milk products and use of dairy terms as established by the global food standards body, Codex Alimentarius International.
It defined milk as the normal mammary secretion of milking animals obtained from one or more milkings without either addition to it or extraction from it, intended for consumption as liquid milk or for further processing.
Beef + Lamb NZ chief executive Sam McIvor said the organisation had commissioned an international company to study the impact of alternative protein and the opportunities and response of the red meat sector, which should be ready by the end of December.
Demand for meat was growing internationally and within that segment, demand for grass-fed, hormone and antibiotic free beef was also emerging.
“As much as I see disruption and risk there is also a sweet spot being created for us.”
United States beef production would reach record levels in each of the next three years on the back of cheap grain but beef consumption was forecast to grow from 118kg a head to 120kg by 2019.
Lamb consumption was low in the US at 0.4kg a head and McIvor saw plenty of scope for growth.
“We are taking the risk seriously but approaching it from a position of knowledge and understanding.”
B+LNZ would not in general take action to defend wording or images associated with red meat because consumers knew if they were buying real meat or a plant-based product.
Internationally dairy appears more advanced in protecting the use of its traditional terms than other protein producers.
An Australian lobby group Dairy Connect was lobbying Food Standards Australia-NZ to adhere to the Codex standard for the use of dairy terms. Any ruling would also apply in NZ.
The European Court of Justice recently ruled plant-based protein could not, in principle, be marketed using terms such as milk, cream, butter, cheese or yoghurt.
US Senator Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin pressured the Food and Drug Administration to legally enforce the labelling of dairy products to ensure the use of dairy terms applied only to milk from cows.
European MPs sought tougher laws preventing plant protein producers from using meat terms such as prosciutto and mortadella.