COMMENT:

Have you noticed that things have changed in the meat section of the supermarket?

Popping up quietly you may have spotted "meat-free" mince. It looks quite a lot like meaty mince, but it's made entirely of plants.

It's the latest in a range of new meat-free proteins to cater to a growing appetite from consumers for meat-free options. They're aimed less at vegetarians and vegans — who tend to be turned off by things with the texture and appearance of meat — and more at meat eaters who are feeling they need to curb their carnivorous tendencies.

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And once again, as often happens in the world of fast-moving consumer goods, the marketers are ahead of the labelling regulation.

Although there hasn't been much reaction to meat-free mince alongside the beef and lamb here, in Australia it was another story. Farming lobby groups and several senators were outraged and called for the product to be pulled from the shelves and re-named when it was launched there. "Mince is mince. Mince is meat", railed one politician.

That's led to the Australian government requesting Food Safety Australia and New Zealand review the rules about how plant-based products are labelled and named. Detractors say meat-free mince and plant milks such as almond and oat are "piggybacking" on the reputation of meat and dairy milk, and confusing consumers.

Europe is already there. The EU banned the use of terms such as soy milk and veggie cheese for plant-based dairy-mimicking foods last year. No more tofu butter.

I doubt there are many people who would mistake a plant-based meat or milk for the real thing. Even if you absentmindedly picked this up by accident, you'd only do it once — the meat-free meat products don't taste or cook like meat, and soy, almond and oat milk are very different from dairy.

But it seems highly likely there are people who will assume these plant-based foods have similar nutrition to their animal-based counterparts.

That's a problem because for the most part, they don't. FSANZ emphasises on its website that plant-based milks are not as nutritious as dairy milk, and that they're not suitable for infants due to their generally lower protein, vitamin and fat content.

Meat-free meat, likewise, is not nutritionally the same as meat. Some are formulated to contain similar levels of protein, which is good. And some have added vitamins and minerals such as iron, and are low in saturated fat — also good.

But others are high in sodium and saturated fat (from ingredients added to lend taste and texture) and have lots of additives — not ideal when we're advised to cut our intake of processed foods.

I think we need better labelling here, too. The people who've created these products are clever to have come up with their product formulations. They have got to be clever enough to come up with names for them that aren't mince, sausage, burger or chicken.

Niki Bezzant is editor-at-large for Healthy Food Guide www.healthyfood.co.nz