MONTREAL — Cattle producers across the country are backing Quebec colleagues who have filed a complaint over a popular new meatless burger that is being advertised as "plant-based meat."
The Quebec Cattle Producers Federation says the marketing that goes with Beyond Meat's vegan products is misleading and contravenes Canadian rules. They're calling on the country's food inspection agency to intervene.
"The complaint was for the use of the words 'plant-based meat,' " said Kirk Jackson, a vice-president with the federation and a cattle farmer from St-Anicet, Que. "Under our current regulations in Canada — governed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency — the definition of meat is product derived from animal carcass, so we want to protect the integrity of the products we produce."
Beyond Meat — a California-based company that makes plant-based sausages, patties and other products — has become increasingly popular in Canada and has recently appeared on grocery shelves in Quebec.
The product first appeared on breakfast and burger menus at A&W restaurants in Canada, and this week Tim Horton's announced it will test three Beyond Meat breakfast sandwiches with the potential to roll them out across Canada by the end of summer.
Jackson said farmers don't take issue with the product itself; it's the use of the word "meat" that cattle farmers have a beef with.
"It can be plant-based protein, but don't say plant-based meat," he said. "Meat has its own definition, and we want to hold up that integrity for the product we produce."
The federal Safe Food for Canadians Act prohibits advertising "in a manner that is false, misleading or deceptive or likely to create a false impression" with respect to its nutritional values.
The Canadian Cattlemen's Association hasn't filed its own complaint, but the organization's manager for international and government relations says the Quebec group has its backing.
"We would agree with Quebec cattle producers that we need to make sure that food nomenclature is clear and following the regulations in Canada," said Fawn Jackson. She said the term meat should be reserved for "the edible part of a carcass."
In a statement, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said it wouldn't comment on a specific complaint.
"When assessing a product's compliance, CFIA reviews all information on food labels or in advertisements — including words, images, vignettes and logos - as they will contribute to the overall impression created by that product to determine whether a consumer would be misled," the agency wrote. "When a labelling violation is identified, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency requests the necessary corrections to be made by the regulated party in question."
Beyond Meat said in a statement last week that it intends to respect Canadian norms with all future communications, but it was unclear what steps they'd take.
For Quebec farmers like Jackson, removing a single word would suffice.
"We want to protect the integrity of the products we produce," Jackson said. "Plants cannot be meat."