THE Federal Senate Inquiry into Definitions of Meat and Other Animal Products has received 225 submissions, and plenty of them have the animal-protein lobby fiercely defending the words it feels are its own against use on food made with plant-based proteins.
Those words include species-specific terms like bacon, beef and chicken, plus associated iconography, and the big “beef”: meat.
Ahead of the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee presenting its report on the inquiry by February 2022, Food Innovation Australia Limited (FIAL) managing director Mirjana Prica is already certain that the opportunities for Australian proteins of all types eclipse any market-share issues created by words on packaging.
“The Senate Inquiry is important because we need to get clarity, and truth in labelling,” Ms Prica said.
“Clarity is important around the definitions.”
Export labelling regulations require product labelled as meat to come from an animal carcase, but domestic requirements are not as stringent.
“For a customer overseas, it’s the truth in labelling.”
While plant-based protein businesses in Australia including v2food are unashamedly looking at export, and therefore have steered away from using the word meat and animal-related terms and graphics, others are not, and have sparked the ire of some in the red-meat sector.
Ms Prica wishes all in the expanding protein family could take a bigger-picture view.
“The argument has to shift from it being a threat; we have to grow the pie rather than fight over a small piece of the pie.
“They’re creating a black hole but it’s a brilliant opportunity.
“We’re the middle ground; we understand all the arguments, and why they’re biased.
“The most important thing isn’t plant-based protein or meat or alternative protein; it’s all of them.”
FIAL was set up in 2013 by the Federal Government under the Department of Industry to look at growth opportunities for food, beverage and agribusiness.
It is one of six such growth centres, and the others deal with: advanced manufacturing; cybersecurity; medical technologies and pharmaceuticals; mining, and energy resources.
Among their goals is an increase in collaboration and commercialisation, and identifying and pursuing export markets.
Animal protein the heavyweight
The Capturing the Prize report released by FIAL in October 2020 identified 19 growth opportunities that can collectively lift the worth of Australia’s value add in the domestic and export markets combined from the current $61 billion per annum to more than $200B by 2030.
Health and wellness, forecast to hit $45B by 2030, is seen as the largest, and covers health and beauty products as well as niche food markets including gluten free.
The second, on $31B, is traditional proteins like meat and eggs and a long way behind at $5B is plant-based and alternative proteins, which include insects and cultured meat.
“We don’t want to lose sight of that growth.”
This builds on a reported 40pc increase between 2000 and 2020 in global demand for protein, with 80pc coming from population growth, and 20pc by a growth in per-capita consumption.
In the red meat space, Mort & Co was the subject of a FIAL 2020 Celebrating Innovations Case Study, which looked at how it added value by observing tighter specifications and improving the supply chain for its Phoenix-branded Black Angus and Wagyu beef.
On eggs, Sunny Queen has developed the ready-to-eat Meal Solutions range with the domestic market in mind.
Ms Prica said this kind of value adding comes from engaging with the customer, and developing or improving systems to provide it.
Pulse crops hold potential
Soybeans have traditionally been the main global source of plant-based protein foods such as tofu, or bean curd.
They also feature heavily in the make-up of plant-based protein made by Australian companies including v2food, but they rely on some imported product because Australia has always run a soybean deficit.
Ms Prica said Australian growers and those who can value-add them have opportunities on their doorstep with pulses Australia already grows in abundance.
In eastern Australia, chickpeas and faba beans are exported mostly unprocessed, and Ms Prica said developments in agronomy should and could be mirrored in value adding.
“We are the world leaders in tropical and sub-tropical plant-breeding programs, around crops like chickpeas and mungbeans.
“We can build on that.”
Western Australia is the world’s biggest grower and exporter of lupins, and Ms Prica said companies in WA were looking at fractionation and other processes to get more lupins into the human-consumption market.
“What the farmer has is a choice to produce for the market they want.
“It’s a really exciting time and we need to capitalise.
“We’re trying to get a greater margin; then everyone across the value chain will get a better return.”
Growth in clusters
Ms Prica said the greatest challenge for Australia’s value-adding sector was in bringing small companies together to gain some critical mass and create the added income and 300,000 jobs it can see if the $200B by 2030 is reached.
“We’ve got the smarts; now it’s about getting scale.”
To that, FIAL is working to set up clusters across Australia to bring companies from different backgrounds together, with FermenTasmania, Food and Fibre Gippsland, Central Coast Industry Connect, Food and Agribusiness Network being the first four.
“When you get government, industry and research together…you find firms who operate in that ecosystem far outperform those that don’t.
“When you find the right platform, it will unite people.
“You’ve got to have a compelling reason to come to the table.
“Let’s find the opportunities and challenges that we can’t solve on our own – the common platform – you’ve got to put research at the centre of it, and then you need to get the cohort of businesses around it.”
Ms Prica said Australia was facing competitors, particularly from North and South American countries, in growing the value-added market.
“They’re all eyeing this protein space.
“We’ve got to have a sense of urgency.”