Fake meat burgers are 'processed crap' says leading premium beef marketer

James Madden, heads of Australia's leading marketers of premium meat brands, launched a blistering attack on plant-based "meat".
James Madden, heads of Australia's leading marketers of premium meat brands, launched a blistering attack on plant-based "meat".

James Madden, who heads one of Australia's leading marketers of premium meat brands, says plant-based hamburgers are junk food.

He describes the fake meat burgers from the likes of high-profile US manufacturers, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, as "junk food" and "processed crap".

Mr Madden, managing director of Melbourne-based Flinders + Co, launched a blistering attack on plant-based "meat" during a panel discussion at this week's launch of the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework in Sydney.

Last year Flinders + Co became the first meat supplier in the world to fully offset carbon emissions.

The company, originally called Flinders Island Meat, was established in 2010 by Mr Madden's father, David, as a boutique lamb brand after he bought the Flinders Island abattoir.

I really think meat has got everything going for it. It is the original super food. Before quinoa and kale and all these rubbish vegetables came along there was meat.

James Madden

The company has since evolved into a wholesale meat company distributing some of Australia's best known meat brands including Cape Grim beef, Robbins Island Wagyu, Rosedale Ruby beef, Flinders Island Saltgrass Lamb and Nichols Ethical Free Range Chicken.

Mr Madden admitted he seriously thought about transitioning the company out of meat two or three years ago because of an avalanche of anti-meat messages and wall-to-wall publicity about the alleged health benefits of vegan diets.

SUPER FOOD: Leading marketer of premium brand meats, James Madden (pictured with his father, David) says red meat is a super food.

SUPER FOOD: Leading marketer of premium brand meats, James Madden (pictured with his father, David) says red meat is a super food.

He watched a "lot" of documentaries and listened to "noise" about Beyond Meat burgers, Impossible Foods, veganism and the impact of livestock on the environment.

"I was experiencing it (the red meat debate) as a consumer rather than an industry participant at that point. So I probably didn't know enough," he said.

"But I seriously thought about taking our business out of the meat industry.

"Thankfully I didn't. What I ended up doing was digging beneath the surface. And what I found was very reassuring to myself," he said.

BEST TREATMENT: Leading meat processor, Peter Greenham, says livestock and the land they graze on deserve the best possible treatment.

BEST TREATMENT: Leading meat processor, Peter Greenham, says livestock and the land they graze on deserve the best possible treatment.

Mr Madden was answering a question to the panel from Jenny O'Sullivan, a livestock producer from Victoria's South Gippsland and member of the Beef Sustainability Framework's steering committee.

She asked the panel - which included leading processor, Peter Greenham, Queensland cattle producer, Howard Smith, and Sydney chef, Mike McEnearney - what they would say to farmers concerned and scared about the attacks on their industry by vegans and animal activists.

"I think it's probably natural to feel threatened by all of these things but I really think meat has got everything going for it," Mr Madden said.

"It is the original super food. Before quinoa and kale and all these rubbish vegetables came along there was meat.

"I think from a nutritional perspective, (from a) health perspective, I think there will be a lot happening over the next five years that will dispel these myths, rumours, ideologies around how meat is damaging for our health.

JUNK FOOD: Leading marketer of premium brand meat, James Madden, says fake meat hamburgers are "processed crap".

JUNK FOOD: Leading marketer of premium brand meat, James Madden, says fake meat hamburgers are "processed crap".

"I think we as an industry have everything behind us, we are competing with junk food.

"When you look at the back of a packet of beef mince it is beef mince, it's not 100 different things on the ingredients list.

"For me that's what consumers are going to be looking for. This drive towards a vegan ideology or (that) meat doesn't play an important role in environmental management is just rubbish.

"I think consumers will and are waking up to it. That's what has encouraged me to stay in meat."

Peter Greenham, managing director of major beef processor and exporter, H.W. Greenham, said nothing would stop radical activists because they were against the killing of animals.

He said livestock producers should focus on ensuring their animals received the best possible treatment on their farms and while being transported to market and their land was also treated in the best possible way.

"You are always going to have people saying we shouldn't be killing animals," he said.

Howard Smith, a leading Central Queensland cattle producer and former chairman of the Cattle Council of Australia, said major progress with the development of the Beef Sustainability Framework would nullify some of the threats posed by the vegan movement.

The framework was also giving him and his family the confidence to keep investing in their beef business because it showed the industry was being pro-active in responding to its critics.

"If we can get it right we can stand up with hand on heart and not apologise for producing high quality protein to feed the world."

Mr Smith is an advocate for the wider use of pain relief in the cattle industry because it was delivering him better animal welfare and productivity outcomes.

FOREFRONT OF BATTLE: Leading Sydney chef, Mike McEnearney, says restaurant owners like him are at the forefront of the battle to answer consumers' questions about how meat is produced and how livestock are treated.

FOREFRONT OF BATTLE: Leading Sydney chef, Mike McEnearney, says restaurant owners like him are at the forefront of the battle to answer consumers' questions about how meat is produced and how livestock are treated.

The 2019 update of the Beef Sustainability Framework was launched in Kitchen by Mike, a Sydney restaurant operated by leading chef and passionate red meat and sustainability enthusiast, Mike McEnearney.

He said chefs like him were at the forefront of answering an increasing number of questions from consumers curious about the origins of the food they were eating and how it was produced.

For that reason he welcomed the Beef Sustainability Framework.

Meanwhile, Beyond Meat was the world's first plant-based burger sold in the meat cases of US grocery stores but some retailers are now having second thoughts.

Nine US grocery chains now think Beyond Meat products may fit better in the vegan section rather than the refrigerated meat department.

Beyond Meat and its meatless burger rivals were counting on going head to head with meat inside supermarkets.