What is fake meat?
Did you know? Just because a food is plant-based doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy. Read on to find out more.
Plant-based fake meat is an ultra-processed manufactured food. Although positioned as an alternative to red meat, it is not nutritionally interchangeable with natural, nutritious and sustainable Australian red meat.
Fake meat products accounts for less than one per cent of total fresh meat and alternative protein sales in Australia. Unlike all-natural Australian red meat, around half of the fake meat consumed is imported from overseas. (Source)
Fake meat products generally come from a plant source like soybeans or wheat, or even fermented fungi. Manufacturers use imitation flavours, colours and perfumes to hide things like bitterness, dryness and astringency and to mask the earthy flavours of vegetables, cereals and beans. (Source)
Additives are also required to improve the texture and taste of the fake meat, whilst colours and enhancers are also needed to give the end product a meat-like appearance.
Is plant-based fake meat healthier than red meat?
Different foods play different roles in a healthy diet. Plant-based foods provide dietary fibre (not found in red meat) and red meat provides essential nutrients, such as haem iron, omega-3 and vitamin B12 (not found in plant-based foods).
The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend eating a variety of foods from each of the five food groups, choosing healthy choices. For red meat, this is meat trimmed of separable fat. For plant-based products it means choosing products with lower levels of sodium, sugar and saturated fat.
Some plant-based fake meats can be high in sodium and saturated fat because they are ultra-processed and use additives and preservatives to make them taste like real meat.
Red meat is naturally nutritious and a great source of 12 essential micronutrients required for good health – iron, zinc, omega 3, magnesium, selenium, niacin, riboflavin, potassium, phosphorus, vitamins B5, B6 and B12.
These nutrients in red meat support brain function, muscle and bone development, immunity, energy, and are also important for fertility.
Is plant-based fake meat better for the environment?
All foods have an environmental impact, whether you choose an omnivorous, vegetarian or vegan diet.
Although foods vary in greenhouse gas emissions, it’s also important to look at the bigger picture – the nutritional value of foods as well as the greenhouse gas emissions.
For example, lettuce may have a lower carbon footprint per kilogram than beef, but beef provides far more nutrients per unit of mass. The bigger environmental picture also needs to be considered – biodiversity, water use and land use, not just greenhouse gases.
Research suggests the way wheat and soybeans (the main raw material for plant-based fake meats) are produced can contribute to declining biodiversity. Equally, the environmental impact and energy used in processing and packaging fake meat is similar to that of discretionary (junk) foods.
While studies have indicated switching to a more plant-based diet could result in a slight increase in overall water use and only a modest decrease in overall cropland use, it should be noted that a large portion of Australia’s land mass cannot support any other food production than red meat. Just 8% of Australia's land mass is suitable for cropping. (Source)
A study of over a million people in 50 countries by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Oxford University found switching to a plant-based diet was the least popular solution for protecting against climate change. Land and forest conservation (which the Australian red meat industry is actively undertaking) is the most popular solution. (Source)
The environmental impact of eating Australian red meat is mostly low. Lamb is already climate neutral and reducing the climate impact of beef through the Roadmap to Carbon Neutral by 2030 is one of the red meat industry’s main priorities.