The United States Food and Drug Administration and the European Union have tightened controls on what food products can use terms traditionally associated with meat and dairy but the New Zealand sectors are yet to move.
Bodies representing NZ’s red meat and dairy industries have previously said securing rights to terms such as milk and steak are not a high priority and the Primary Industries Ministry has no application for such protection.
The FDA has registered its intent to enforce bans on products such as soy and almond being called milk, rules that already exist but administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb said had not been enforced.
In NZ what can be called milk and meat is defined by the Food Standards Code, which covers labelling and composition of food for sale in NZ and Australia.
“However, there is some ability to qualify these terms for non-meat or dairy products that may be similar in their form or the way they are used, for example soy milk, rice milk or a vegetarian sausage, which were clearly not dairy or meat products,” an MPI spokesman said.
The code requires foods to be labelled with a name or description that is sufficient to indicate its true nature.
“Such terms are also subject to fair trading legislation, which means their use must not be misleading to consumers.”
The code, administered by Food Standards Australia, said unless prescribed, the name of the food must accurately indicate its true nature.
Products such as milk, sausages or meat pie must be milk, sausage or meat pie as defined by the code.
Meat products must contain a minimum portion of meat flesh.
There is an exception if the context makes it clear the food is not a food as determined by the code, such as a soy sausage or soy milk clearly labelled as soy, signifying that the product is not meat or milk.
FSANZ does not have enforcement powers but MPI does.
Anyone can apply to have the code amended but no requests have been made to protect terms traditionally linked to animal protein products.
The USFDA said only the product of a lactated animal can be called milk but Gottlieb said it had never been enforced even though “an almond doesn’t lactate”.
Gottlieb said the USFDA has to notify and consult on its change in posture. He expects it to be sued.
“Invariably we are going to get sued.”
While its policy referred to lactating animals dictionaries talked about milk coming from lactating animals or nuts.
“So, there are going to be people make a counter argument that almond can be called milk.”
The process of notifying its intent to clamp down on what products can use dairy terms will take at least a year, he said.
The United States Cattlemen’s Association has testified before the USFDA the term meat relates exclusively to a protein food product harvested from the flesh of an animal, which excludes cultured cell products.
A levy on cattle sales is used to fund consumer marketing programmes for beef, which suppliers of non-animal protein would benefit from.
The European Union Court of Justice last year ruled terms such as milk, butter and cheese can be used only for milk products derived from animals and not for plant-based products
This year the French Parliament amended its Agriculture Bill to prohibit any products largely based on non-animal products from using terms traditionally associated with meat.
That means France has banned plant-based products from using terms such as vegetarian sausages, vegan cheese or soy milk or companies risk fines of over NZ$500,000.
Meanwhile, a key ingredient, heme, in the Impossible Foods plant protein burger has been given FDA approval.
Heme, a genetically modified organism, gives the burger its deep blood-red colour when cooked.
But to get approval Impossible Foods tested heme on rats, a move that split many vegans who have railed on social media between those who viewed it as a necessary step towards the end goal of finding a plant-based alternative to meat and those who refused to compromise their opposition to animal testing.