When is meat not meat? When it's plant based.

The EU's recent proposed ban on the use of terms like burger, sausage or steak to describe non-meat-based products reflects the global surge in popularity of faux-meat products.

The intention of the EU agricultural committee in delineating plant-based products is to ensure consumers are protected from possible mis-labelling and confusion as these products become commonplace in eating establishments and at the home dinner table.

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Whether ensuring a brand distinction between meat and their alternatives will work remains to be seen.

It will certainly be tough to enforce, as global food service and fast food giants are jumping on to the ''tastes like meat but isn't'' bandwagon.

Burger King has recently joined Carl's Jr and other fast food joints in providing an option for vegans and ''flexitarians''.

Burger King is rolling out its Impossible Whopper to United States stores. Photo / File
Burger King is rolling out its Impossible Whopper to United States stores. Photo / File

In BK's case, it has rolled out its Impossible Whopper at an initial 59 stores in the United States.

If the pilot goes well, the burger, sold at a $US1 ($NZ1.50) premium to the real meat alternative, could be on the menu at more than 7000 restaurants in the US in a matter of months, before hitting 18,000 restaurants globally.

The Impossible Whopper uses ''meat'' manufactured by Silicon Valley start-up Impossible Foods.

The plant-based patty utilises an iron-rich molecule called heme which also offers the taste, aroma and bleeding properties of meat, while still being a plant product.

A fermentation process that involves genetically engineering yeast to produce heme gives the Impossible Burger the meat flavour and texture it's known for.

Impossible Foods and its competitor Beyond Meat aren't going after the vegans of the world.

Rather, they are targeting meat eaters who want to diversify their diets.

Given the uptake of their product range, their only problem will be keeping up with demand.

Part of that demand is coming from New Zealand.

The announcement last year that Air New Zealand had added an Impossible Burger to its Los Angeles to Auckland in-flight menu, caused a few ripples within the primary sector.

National MP Nathan Guy expressed his disappointment and openly suggested the national carrier would be better off promoting New Zealand's premium products and helping sell New Zealand to the world.

Air New Zealand serves the Impossible Burger on its US-NZ flight. Photo / Supplied
Air New Zealand serves the Impossible Burger on its US-NZ flight. Photo / Supplied

Beef + Lamb NZ and Fedfarms agreed, suggesting that local red meat farmers should feel let down and there were domestic products that could have been promoted instead.

One such local option is produced and sold by Dunedin's Craft Meat Co, which recently launched its No-Meat Mince product.

Billed as a ''100 per cent plant-based protein for today's consumer'', its protein ingredients include soy protein, soy flour, wheat flour (gluten) and guar gum. For taste it has almonds, tomato, mushroom and malt extract.

As any good mince needs some fat to give it flavour, the mince recipe includes coconut oil as well as beetroot for colour.

Craft Meat Co owner Grant Howie, the former marketing manager of Silver Fern Farms, said the alternative product had been a big seller, particularly with the ''growing flexitarian market in New Zealand''.

The Evolution of Plant Protein, a report recently prepared by the Ministry for Primary Industries and Plant & Food Research, notes that while animal proteins continue to appeal to traditional consumer preferences, such as taste and functionality, a growing drive for more sustainable and healthier lifestyles is positioned to shift that emphasis to plant protein products.

''These products will need to meet the stringent expectations of consumers, that have been established through diets that include animal protein, in order to succeed,'' Dr Jocelyn Eason of Plant & Food Research said.

Given New Zealand's reliance on protein exports - about 60 per cent of our primary export revenue is linked to animal based protein - the implications of changing consumer preference are clear.

Meat Industry Association (MIA) chief executive Tim Ritchie suggests that while the industry is critically aware of shifting consumer patterns, New Zealand producers remain one of the globe's most efficient producers and exports of animal protein.

''New technologies and food innovations take investment and manufacturing capacity, so they are initially focused into first world economies. Our research into China, for example, suggests a shift towards higher quality, sustainable and healthy animal proteins.

''There is clearly demand for alternative proteins, but that also provides opportunity for new markets for New Zealand red meat products and a chance to differentiate our own offering.''