Pine Lake rancher Doug Sawyer, a board member of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association. (Contributed photo).

Vegan products shouldn’t be mislabelled as ‘meat’ says central Alberta rancher

‘We’re looking into the legalities of it,’ says Doug Sawyer

Plant-based products aren’t meat and shouldn’t be allowed to use that label, says central Alberta rancher Doug Sawyer, a member of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.

His organization is pushing back against such “misleading” advertising on vegan or vegetarian products.

“I’m not telling consumers what to eat,” stresses Sawyer. “My issue is calling a completely vegetable-based product ‘meat.’

“I would not try to pass off a burger made of half meat and half bean as a bean burger…”

The owner of the Ghostpine Ranches and Stables near Pine Lake says it’s a matter of consumer trust.

“People need to know what exactly they are buying.”

As most of these vegan products are packaged in the U.S., the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association is working with its U.S. counterpart to investigate ways to force them to stop using “meat” as a descriptor.

“We are looking into the legalities of it,” says Sawyer, whose association is also prodding the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to ensure imported products are accurately labelled.

Personally, Sawyer can understand why many restaurants offer vegetable burgers: by not catering to the one vegetarian in a family, the restaurant stands to lose the whole family’s business.

He’s less understanding of the new Canadian Food Guide, which pushes for more vegetables, nuts, tofu and legumes in the diet in place of animal-based proteins.

“We are trying to get the information out about a healthy, balanced diet,” says Sawyer.

With enough research, consumers can achieve as balanced a diet as a vegetarian or vegan, but many people don’t put the work in, adds Sawyer, who believes it’s easier to get important minerals, such as iron, from meat-based protein.

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association is concerned the Canadian Food Guide misstates the environmental impact of the beef industry.

Sawyer says many of these assumptions were taken from European sources.

“They should have done Canadian research… It’s a totally different situation here than in England,” where ranches are smaller and production is much more concentrated.

According to the Canadian beef industry, its greenhouse gas footprint is less than half of the world average, as Canadian grasslands can store up to 200 tonnes of carbon per hectare.

Sawyer acknowledged that many consumers, particularly younger people, are going vegetarian — and this is a concern, not only for beef producers, but also pork and chicken producers.

His association is fighting back with the messages that beef can be sustainable and that vegetable products are not meat.

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