Choosing a wholly or partly plant-based diet, less meat and less dairy are gaining fast momentum in Australia. Research conducted by Roy Morgan showed that 2.5 million people (12.1%) of Australians are now eating all or mostly vegetarian. Plus, a growing number of people describe themselves as flexitarian – they primarily eat a vegetarian diet but occasionally eat meat or fish.
The vegan-friendly complementary medicines industry is flourishing
Australians are currently one of the top five biggest meat consumers in the world. According to Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), we consumed 26 kilograms of cow each in 2017 plus nine kilograms of lamb on top of that annually. But data from the charity, Animals Australia, showed that in 2018 there was continued growth in people choosing kinder, more sustainable eating, increasing from 2.1 million people (11.2%) eating all or almost all vegetarian in 2016, and 1.7 million people (9.7%) in 2012. That is equivalent to an additional 400,000 people choosing meat-free meals in Australia since 2016 alone or one person deciding to eat less meat or go meat-free every five minutes. And while millennials lead the trend, it is also increasingly being seen in other age groups.
The global trend
In the UK, the number of vegans has quadrupled between 2014 and 2019. In the USA, a report by trade group, Plant Based Foods Association and market research company SPINS found sales of plant-based foods increased by 90 per cent during the height of pandemic-buying in mid-March 2020 compared to the same time in the previous year spiking by 148 per cent. In a July report, online resource HappyCow found that more vegan restaurants opened than closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the surge in plant-based and eco-sensitive eating, Australian restaurants – including fast-food chains – are introducing new products to meet peoples' changing needs from plant-based meats and schnitzels to dairy and ice creams. So, what is behind this increased interest in plant-based eating?
Concern about animal welfare
We are now much more aware of animal welfare, and people are reacting by eating fewer animal products. Images of live exports and media coverage have revealed shocking scenes of animal abuse that are, for many, impossible to unsee.
Concern about the environment
Increasing awareness of the carbon footprint that meat and dairy industries are responsible for is another reason. Production of meat and dairy together account for 18 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions, one of the largest in the world. And, people have a clearer understanding of deforestation which is done to provide grazing for animals bred for slaughter.
Research published in Nature stated that millions of hectares of Brazil's Amazon rainforest was in danger of being logged to grow soy to feed China's beef cattle. The greenhouse gas costs of Australia's red meat industry account for over 10 per cent of our total annual emissions.
In 2016, another study found that the three of the world's largest meat producers were responsible for the release of more greenhouse gases than those produced by the whole of France.
Concern about health
Together with asbestos and tobacco, the International Agency for Research on Cancer recently classified processed meat as a Group One Carcinogenic. This and the saturated fats in milk and dairy products mean that people are looking for healthier alternatives.
Obesity and related illnesses are common in western societies, including Australia. Manufacturers of plant-based foods are increasingly producing foods that are lower in calories and saturated fat to meet the increasingly health-conscious needs of Australians.
What about the supplement industry?
The vegan-friendly complementary medicines industry is flourishing too. Those who choose a wholly or partly plant-based diet may require vitamin B12, iron, calcium, vitamin D and zinc. And the industry has made all of these and more nutritional supplements available as well as protein powders, hair and skin products including vegan collagen.
The majority of Australians trust in complementary health products, and our industry is keen to help meet peoples' health in a way that is protective of precious natural resources. Our sector is committed to more ethically sourced ingredients by adopting key initiatives such as choosing clean energy strategies, and more ethical packing and packaging with a keen focus on reusing and recycling.