Synthetic burgers being served on some Air New Zealand flights may be good for the meat industry once people taste them, Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor says.
"It may be a really good, positive thing for the meat industry if people taste it, don't like it and eat real meat," O'Connor said today.
"Air New Zealand make their decisions, they're not always smart. They pulled out of the regions, which I don't agree with. The fact that they're putting this burger on the menu is not going to undermine our meat industry. We've got a better story to tell," he told reporters.
O'Connor said he had not tried a synthetic burger but was willing to in the name of research.
"I think I need to know what we're facing. It's an alternative and we've got to produce a product that's ultimately better and more appealing."
Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters said he was "utterly opposed to fake beef".
"Air New Zealand is an airline that was built by the New Zealand taxpayer, that was privatised, was bailed out by the New Zealand taxpayer, is there because of the New Zealand taxpayer."
Air New Zealand today defended its record of promoting New Zealand and its products after New Zealand First and National MPs criticised it for serving the plant-based "Impossible burger".
The burger, developed by Silicon Valley start-up Impossible Foods, will be served to business premier customers on two services from Los Angeles to Auckland until late October.
"We are a significant customer and supporter of the New Zealand meat industry and spend millions of dollars each year purchasing beef and lamb sourced from around the country for our in-flight meals. In the past year alone, we proudly served around 1.3 million New Zealand sourced beef and lamb meals to customers from around the world," the airline said.
It was also a major patron of the New Zealand wine industry and exported thousands of tonnes of meat through its cargo network, the airline said.
It also played a key role in tourism, facilitating 16 million journeys every year and investing up to $10 million annually in partnership with Tourism New Zealand to promote New Zealand overseas.
New Zealand First's primary industries spokesman Mark Patterson called the promotion of the burger a "slap in the face" for New Zealand's red-meat sector.
"The national carrier should be showcasing our premium quality grass-fed New Zealand red meat, not promoting a product that has the potential to pose an existential threat to New Zealand's second biggest export earner," Patterson said.
National's agriculture spokesman Nathan Guy expressed his disappointment on Twitter.
"Disappointing to see Air NZ promoting a GE substitute meat burger on its flights to the USA. We produce the most delicious steaks & lamb on the planet - GMO & hormone free. The national carrier should be pushing our premium products and helping sell NZ to the world," Guy tweeted.
Meat products were worth $6.7 billion to the New Zealand economy in June this year, behind dairy, which was the top export earner on $14.2b. In April this year tourism was worth $14.7b to the economy.