Alberta beef producers carefully watch Beyond Meat veggie burger complaint

Beef producers in Alberta are carefully watching an ongoing complaint from their Quebec counterparts.

The complaint's target? American veggie burger company Beyond Meat. 

The company has swept into Canadian headlines, advertising a plant-based, meatless burger that mimics beef. It hit the news, to great fanfare, when sold at A&W fast food restaurants, and is now available at various grocery chains.

The vegan company hopes to tap into the meat-eater market because the burger more closely tastes like beef than standard veggie patties.

The Quebec Cattle Producers Federation filed a formal complaint with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency last week, arguing Beyond Meat has no right to advertise their product as "plant-based meat."

Alberta Beef Producers and Canadian Cattleman's Association, which is based in Calgary, have announced their support for the complaint.

"If they're saying, 'We're selling plant-based protein,' we don't have any issue with that at all. That's not misleading at all. That's very clear what consumers are getting," Alberta Beef Producers executive director Rich Smith told the Calgary Eyeopener.

"When they start introducing terms that they're using in a comparative way and sometimes in a negative way in their advertising, then that's where we think it's unfair and misleading to to our industry and to consumers."

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Smith and others point to a definition of meat from the food inspection agency: essentially, it's the edible part of an animal carcass.

Beyond Meat sells 4-ounce patties made of pea protein and canola oil.

"Our concern is with the potential for confusion," Smith said.

He said his organization and the national one haven't seen the need for additional formal complaints beyond what Quebec's federation filed. He said he understands that the food inspection agency is aware that they support that original complaint.

Canada's beef industry has taken a few knocks lately. It criticized the country's new food guide for emphasizing alternative, plant-based proteins over meat and dairy products. And it's seen beef and cattle exports decline in recent years, from $1.96 billion in 2014 to $987 million in 2018, according to Industry Canada.

Smith remains skeptical that plant alternatives pose any threat to beef. As a proud meat eater, he said he hasn't yet tried the Beyond Meat burgers.

"I'm curious but on the other hand, I really like hamburgers and I really like meat," he said.

Beyond Meat

Beyond Meat "takes regulatory compliance very seriously," the company said in a statement issued to CBC Montreal. It's reviewing internally to ensure it's complying with Canadian regulations, a spokesperson said.

Tim Hortons plans to test Beyond Meat breakfast sandwiches, and may roll them out Canada-wide by the end of summer.