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Wednesday, 26 April 1972
Page: 1994


Mr DUTHIE (Wilmot) - There is one difference between this matter of public importance and most other matters of public importance which are introduced into this House, and that is that both sides agreed that it should be raised. Wc on this side appreciate the interest and concern of t'.e honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett) in raising this matter in this Parliament today. The honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby) has already raised it on several occasions. There is no doubt that this matter has the complete support of honourable members on both sides of this House in an endeavour to find ways and means of meeting the threat to our meat industry by what are called , synthetic or ersatz products.

I will deal firstly with the threat of imitation meats to our meat industry. The pattern has been set in the United States of America and we should take note of what is happening there. It should be a warning to our industry, this Government and the State governments. For instance, in 1970 the United States produced 580 million lb of soya bean protein which is used in producing synthetic meat. Already big organisations such as General Foods and Du Pont in the United States are developing synthetic meat. It is no longer a minor industry in that country. In the United States in 1971 the production of substitute meat was greater than the total meat imports. Other synthetic products have eaten deeply into established rural industries. In the United States of America about 30 million people a year now drink synthetic milk. In recent times synthetics have played a major role in the decline in wool prices. The honourable member for Herbert mentioned the impact on the sugar industry of artificial sweeteners.

In the United Kingdom consumption of substitute meat has risen to 1,500 tons and, as the honourable member for Paterson (Mr O'Keefe) mentioned, a survey of 40 of the major food suppliers in the United Kingdom revealed that the suppliers expect a 25 per cent penetration into the meat market by 1990. Production of ersatz meat in Japan has doubled in the past 2 years to 24,000 tons. If synthetic meat gains a foothold in Australia it will be seen first in hamburgers, hot dogs and sausages, and then will extend beyond those items into other meats. For instance, in the 'Bulletin' issue of 17th July 1971 there was an article under 'Market Outlook' entitled 'Soya Beans Challenge to Meat'. The article reads:

In a bold move, Courtaulds plans to invade the difficult synthetic-foods market, until now dominated almost exclusively by American concerns, by the end of this year or early in 1972 Courtaulds plans to market synthetic meats made from soya-bean filaments both in the wealthy United States and in some of the underdeveloped countries short on the protein content in their staple diet.

Courtaulds has a great array of competitors facing lt There is reference in this article to 6 great world producers. The article continues:

The more optimistic estimates for the North American synthetic-foods market run up to 20 million tons a year (more conservative estimates are closer to the IS million tons a year mark). The range of synthetic foods marketed is wide, including synthetic fish, beef, poultry, ham, bacon and fruit and nuts.

All are made from soya-bean filaments, and synthetic-foods manufacturers claim that thenproducts are almost indistinguishable from the real thing in appearance or taste. This is achieved with the aid of artificial coloring and flavoring added to soya-bean filaments, which can be woven into any shape or form.

I have quoted these facts concerning what is happening around the world in order to indicate the threat which the synthetic meats pose. If a firm like Courtaulds is sufficiently interested to enter the synthetic meat field, then it must realise that there is something in it, particularly as far as profits are concerned. I turn to the economics of the question. A specialist from the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, a Mr N. D. Honan, has said that soya bean proteins are a much cheaper source of protein than animal products. It is now possible for soya bean protein extenders to increase the normal hamburger mbe by 25 per cent to 30 per cent while maintaining the palpability of the end product. This has resulted in a price reduction of from 65c to 53c per lb in the ingredients of hamburgers. That is a frightening reduction, and if it can be achieved what an impact it will have on our highly priced meat products in the shops.

It is obvious that an imitation meat industry in Australia would seriously affect our meat industry. Our meat industry comprises thousands of producers running 180 million sheep, 22 million cattle and 6 mil lion pigs. It produces 1,948 million tons of meat a year. For instance, in 1970 our exports of meat to the United Kingdom where the use of synthetic meat is increasing, amounted to 76 million tons of frozen and chilled meat and 6,908,000 tons of canned meat. In that same year our exports were 264 million tons to the United States of America and 67 million tons to Japan. It meant that 76 per cent of our total exports of meat products wont to the 3 countries where the use of synth.'tic meat is increasing rapidly. Our meat industry is a massive industry, and any inroads made by synthetic meats would be serious and they would be felt right throughout the meat industry. There has already been a drop of 10 per cent per person in the consumption of beef in Australia.

How can we handle this threat posed by synthetic meats? Firstly, as has been mentioned, there is a necessity for labelling legislation, both in the Commonwealth and the State spheres, so that synthetic meat is labelled for what it is not, and that is meat. In the Senate on 30th September last year, Senator Drake-Brockman, in reply to a question asked by Senator Drury, stated:

I saw the annual report by the Australian Meat Board. The report stated that the Board was conscious of the threat being posed by the development of synthetic or imitation meats. It was making every endeavour to alert the industry to the dangers of this development. It made the point that immediate legislation was desirable to prevent the use of the word 'meat' in connection with the importation, manufacture or sale of any product other than a recognised meat product.

In April of this year the Australian Meat Board and the Minister for Primary Industry wrote to the State Ministers responsible for primary industry asking them to examine their respective legislation concerning the labelling and description of such products to ensure that the misdescription with respect to the use of the word meat' does not occur. Currently, the States are reviewing their legislation.

In fact, I think that the States should outlaw the use of the term 'meat' when applied to substitutes, and this is also the opinion of Colonel M. H. McArthur, the Chairman of the Australian Meat Board. Secondly, the producers of meat, the processors of meat and the retailers of meat must concentrate on quality in order to answer the threat and challenge of imitation meat. They must concentrate more on flavour and tenderness because this is where they will be beaten to the punch by the people producing synthetic meat. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation currently is examining ways of improving what it calls the chewability of our meat products. I have a report before me on that question. As far back as August 1971, Colonel M. H. McArthur suggested that a conference of the world's major meat producing countries should be held to consider ways of combating the challenge of synthetic meat. He also urged all concerned to watch the price factor because, as we all know, housewives are sensitive to price and if a thing looks like meat and it is cheaper than the real meat product they will most certainly buy it. In the 'Courier Mail' of Sth August last year Colonel McArthur is reported as having said:

I forcast a world shortage of beef after 1975. If this were linked with dangerously high prices, it would encourage synthetic production.

These are some of the factors that we want tho Government to consider. As we are all in favour of action being taken in this matter, the Government has every reason to take such action.







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