The marketing tactics being used to sell a soy-based “vegan tuna”, a product which has a similar name and packaging to the real thing, has upset the Australian seafood industry.
- Producers in several industries have called for clearer labelling on alternative products
- Vegan Australia says it goes both ways, and that the degree of animal suffering should be made clear on all food labelling
- The company behind the product says “Tuno” packaging clearly states it’s a “plant-based protein”
“Tuno” is being sold as “vegetarian fishless tuna” which tastes similar to regular tinned tuna but is made with water, soy flour, yeast extract, maltodextrin and salt, instead of fish.
Seafood Industry Australia chief executive Jane Lovell said fish-free substitutes were a “slap in the face” for the industry, which had worked hard to establish a solid reputation.
She said the plant-based fish substitute used tactics which verged on being “false and misleading”.
“I don’t know what the ACCC [Australian Consumer and Competition Commission] would think about this,” she said.
“The packaging looks so similar, the text is similar, there’s only one letter different than the correct spelling of tuna.”
“Whether there is an intent to mislead or not, is irrelevant, if the overall branding creates a misleading impression than the behaviour is likely to breach the law.
“If people want to be vegans that’s up to them. I don’t think we have high moral ground on that point, but I think this is verging on false and misleading.
“So, if they’re trying to make it look like tuna I think they’re probably on a reasonably slippery slope.”
The criticism comes as plant-based products continue grow in popularity, but industry groups want greater clarity about whether vegan products should be allowed to be marketed using terms such as “meat” and “milk”.
Ms Lovell questioned why vegans wanted to eat plant-based substitutes that were made to resemble the original product.
“If you’re actually trying to avoid eating meat, then why pretend that you are [eating the food]?” she said.
“I don’t quite understand why you would want to make something look like tuna when it’s not. It’s not tuna.”
Vegan calls for ‘suffering’ label
Vegan Australia’s Greg McFarlane agreed clearer labelling was needed on food products.
“I think honesty in labelling is a good idea but it should go both ways,” he said.
“Consumers should be aware of what the product is that they’re buying, and how much suffering went into it.
“On a milk label, for example, it should include the fact that the cows are impregnated, their babies taken away, and that that cycle goes on for a few years, and then the animal is killed.”
Mr McFarlane said making vegan food taste like animal products was simply about modifying food to taste good.
“For most vegans the idea is that we try to avoid causing suffering to animals, it doesn’t really have anything to do with taste,” he said.
“If something tastes nice then it tastes nice, and if you can get the same thing without the suffering then do that.”
Seafood ‘severely under pressure’: company
Douglas Hines from Tuno manufacturer Atlantic Natural Foods said seafood was a precious protein that was “severely under pressure”.
“Seafood is a resource that will not be in our future if measures are not taken to protect the species and our oceans,” he said.
“Being involved for over 40 years in seafood, specifically tuna, I can truly say I have the greatest respect for Australia and the commitment of all involved, from government, to harvesting, and to marketers.
“They have managed with distinction to effect change and truly live by their commitment.
“However, the world does not have the same commitment to sustainability and without alternative protein creation we will face protein shortages in the very near future.”
He said the packaging clearly states the product is a “plant-based protein” in more than one location, and was specifically created for people wanting an alternative.