Politicians could stop beefing and take definitive action to support “real meat”

Federated Farmers today says it is puzzled why our national carrier is making a song and dance about an overseas-produced plant protein burger but not the Kiwi company that supplies them with world-leading transportation fabrics – wool.

Exactly who has been making a song and dance of the vegetarian addition to the airline’s inflight cuisine, however, is arguable.

On July 3 Air NZ announced it is giving customers “a taste of the future” through an inflight collaboration with Silicon Valley food tech start-up Impossible Foods.

The airline is the first in the world to serve the award-winning, plant-based Impossible Burger which is now available as part of its Business Premier menu on flights from Los Angeles to Auckland.

Impossible Burger’s magic ingredient is an iron-containing molecule called heme which comes from the roots of soy plants. The heme in the Impossible Burger is the same as the heme found in animal meat. The result is a plant-based burger patty that cooks, smells and tastes like beef but contains no animal products whatsoever.

Air New Zealand’s Inflight Customer Experience Manager Niki Chave says the burger will be offered to Business Premier customers travelling from Los Angeles to Auckland.

Eating it will not be compulsory.

“We’re confident vegetarians, flexitarians and dedicated meat lovers alike will enjoy the delicious taste of the Impossible Burger, but for those who want to stay with the tried and true it will sit alongside our regular selection of menu items prepared by our talented culinary team and consultant chefs.”

The airline went further than just release a statement. To amplify the message, it produced a video and flew journalists to the United States to promote the burger and the company which makes it.

It will serve the Impossible Burger on flights NZ1 and NZ5 from Los Angeles to Auckland through until late October.

So – on a few flights for a limited period for a few passengers who want this option, beefless burgers will be available.

Before we had digested this news at Point of Order, the news media were feverishly feeding off the enraged reactions.

Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters said Air New Zealand should be the meat industry’s number one marketer.

​”Air New Zealand is an airline built by the New Zealand taxpayer, was privatised, was bailed out by the New Zealand taxpayer, and is there because of the taxpayer. Some of the taxpayers are the farming industry who want to ensure they get top end of the product market offshore and our airline should be its number one marketer,” Peters said.

But shouldn’t he be chuffed at the international media coverage the airline’s burger venture was given?

By positioning Air New Zealand as an innovative airline and, by association, New Zealand as a desirable place to visit, this coverage “has been invaluable,” the airline said in a statement.

Peters said he was “utterly opposed to fake beef” and would not eat it if he had the option of eating real beef.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor more temperately said he had never eaten a non-meat burger but would be happy to do so “because we need to know what we’re facing“.

“There’s a big market for products which are not highly processed. Customers will make the decision, it could be a positive thing for the meat industry if people try it and decide they don’t like it,” O’Connor said.

Other politicians to pitch in have been NZ First Primary Industry spokesman Mark Patterson (he demanded Air New Zealand review the promotion) and former Primary Industries minister Nathan Guy who tweeted:

“Disappointing to see Air NZ promoting a GE substitute meat burger on its flights to the USA.

“We produce the most delicious steaks & lamb on the planet –GMO & hormone free. The national carrier should be pushing our premium products and helping sell NZ to the world.”

Beef+Lamb chief executive Rod Slater said there’s no doubt alternative proteins will be part of the future of food but the hype doesn’t match up with what’s being delivered.

“I’ve eaten an Impossible Burger and a Beyond Burger and trying to be as open-minded as I could, I was disappointed. It’s absolute rubbish that you can’t tell the difference between those and a meat burger,” Slater said.

Perhaps he should welcome Air New Zealand passengers learning this for themselves.

And perhaps his industry should take its cue from companies like Danone which have decided that when you can’t beat them you should join them.  It is moving deeper into the world of plant-based products, adding milk-free ranges to its yogurts while boosting North American-produced vegan brands such as Silk in its DanoneWave business unit.

The Paris-headquartered global dairy giant doesn’t intend to keep vegan products on the fringes of its franchise line, so the world’s biggest yogurt-maker is adding milk-free ranges to some of its flagship dairy brands, including Activia in the U.S. and Actimel in Europe.

As for the politicians, they should be considering the merits of legislatively following the French example.

France recently banned the use of the words “meat” and “dairy” on vegan and vegetarian food labels, while farm lobby groups in the United States are calling for cell-grown and plant-based replicas to be labelled as such.

Australian Cattle Council CEO Margo Andrae who would like to see meat legally defined as coming from the flesh of a slaughtered animal, and that existing definitions of meat in Australia may need to be bolstered.

Let’s hear from the Acting PM on similar action here …


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