Vegan Labelling Debate Heats Up Over Plant-Based 'Tuno'

Plant-based products are flying off the shelves in Australia but there are concerns that labels could be blurring the lines for consumers.

Soy-based 'vegan tuna' is the latest to spark concern.

It's called Tuno and is made by Atlantic Natural Foods. It tastes like regular tuna, looks like the real deal and is packaged almost identical to the traditional cans but is made from soy flour, water and yeast extract -- not fish.

The package clearly states that it is a "plant-based protein".

But while it sounds innocent enough it seems, Seafood Industry Australia isn't impressed.

Chief executive Jane Lovell told the ABC that fish-free substitutes are a "slap in the face" to an industry that has worked so hard to establish a solid reputation.

Photo: Loma Linda.

She claims the labelling is teetering on being false and misleading.

"Whether there is an intent to mislead or not, it's irrelevant, if the overall branding creates a misleading impression then the behaviour is likely to breach the law," Lovell said.

"I don't quite understand why you would want to make something look like tuna when it's not. It's not tuna," she continued according to the national broadcaster.

Vegan Australia's Greg McFarlane disagrees, telling 10 daily that similar labelling isn't an issue at all.

"I don't think anybody has accidentally brought a plant-based product thinking it was a dead animal of sorts," he said, before explaining that it was about food tasting good, without causing animals to suffer.

"It can help people transition into veganism as well. A lot of people think, 'Well what am I going to eat -- salad and sticks?' So when they see a whole fridge full of products they recognise, it becomes a lot easier."

Photo: GETTY

The debate comes amid a growing push to ban manufacturers of plant-based drinks from calling their products milk.

Members of the Country Women's Association unanimously backed a motion to lobby state and federal authorities to force plant-based beverages to remove the word 'milk' from their labels, during a meeting on Tuesday.

While some politicians have come out in support of changing labelling laws.

"I want consumers to have confidence that when they buy honey, it's honey — when they buy meat, it's beef from an animal and when they buy milk, it is actually produced by a dairy cow," Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie said in October.

Vegan sausages. Photo: GETTY

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The issue isn't just being weighed up in Australia, it's being debated worldwide.

In April, France banned the use of meat and dairy-related terms like 'milk' and 'burger' on vegan and vegetarian food. The European Parliament is considering similar bans on 'veggie burgers' and other plant-based meat alternatives.

READ MORE: Veggie Alternatives May Be Banned From Calling Themselves 'Burgers' In The EU

Vegan Australia said the debate goes both ways and is calling for the degree of animal suffering to be included on the labels of meat-based products to allow consumers to make an educated decision.

A spokesperson for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission told 10 daily they are unable to comment on specific allegations, but explained that determining whether a product is misleading would depend on a range of factors.

"An assessment of whether conduct is misleading or deceptive under the Australian Consumer Law goes beyond the consideration of the use of a particular word (eg the similarity between the word “Tuno” and “Tuna)," the spokesperson said.

"It takes in account all the relevant factors surrounding the conduct, such as the entire advertisement, product label, any statements accompanying the sale of the product, and whether and how relevant information is disclosed.

It would also be relevant to consider that a vegan fish product would be targeted at vegans who are actively avoiding food products derived from animals, said the ACCC.