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MasterChef under fire over its ‘carbon-neutral’ gas sponsorship

<I>MasterChef</I> has copped criticism for "greenwashing" over its sponsorship by a gas company.

MasterChef has copped criticism for "greenwashing" over its sponsorship by a gas company. Photo: 10Play

Network Ten’s prized cooking show MasterChef Australia is being accused of “greenwashing” because of this season’s major sponsor, Australian Gas Networks.

Under the deal, contestants in the reality TV show’s kitchen are using gas labelled as “carbon-neutral biomethane” – and cooking with hydrogen gas on barbecues.

MasterChef contestants have always used gas in the kitchen.

“The MasterChef Australia kitchen uses gas and this season we’ve been able to use biomethane, a renewable gas made from organic waste,” a statement from Network Ten and Endemol Shine noted when the partnership was announced.

But environmental groups say the way the gases are labelled is an attempt to “greenwash the gas industry and create a false impression that biomethane and hydrogen are good replacements for methane gas”.

Biomethane is made from organic waste (like human or animal waste or food). It has the same properties as fossil gas – although those who support it claim it is more environmentally friendly than fossil fuel because it has not been taken from the ground and it releases carbon already in the biological cycle.

However, environmentalists are unconvinced.

MasterChef sponsorship ‘out of sync’

Environment Victoria climate campaign manager Joy Toose said AGN touted biomethane and hydrogen gas as viable methane gas replacement to “protect their massive profits”.

Toose also pointed out that the Victorian government banned the installation of gas connections in new homes earlier this year. (MasterChef is filmed in Melbourne.)

The move was to help the state meet climate targets and protect the population’s health. The rule applies only in new homes, while about 80 per cent of homes in Victoria rely on gas for hot water and cooking.

Ben Ewald from Doctors for the Environment Australia said the risk of child asthma increased by 42 per cent if a gas stove was used in a home.

“Burning methane gas – no matter where it comes from – produces a whole range of air pollutants, including benzene, a carcinogen, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and nitrogen dioxide, a respiratory irritant responsible for the asthma link,” he said.

The decision to partner with AGN – an energy company that operates natural gas transmission pipelines and distribution networks across much of Australia – was “completely out of sync with the shifting political and social attitudes” about gas, Toose said.

In addition to the complaints from Toose and Ewald, Dr Christine Cowie, an environmental epidemiologist at UNSW Medicine & Health, Doctors for the Environment Australia, Healthy Futures, Environment Victoria and Climate and Health Alliance have released an open letter to MasterChef.

We are acutely aware that as the leading cooking program in Australia, MasterChef plays an integral role in the cultural landscape,” the letter said.

“We are concerned that your decision to promote gas cooking could lead to your viewers making choices that have health impacts for them and their families.

“It is also at odds with Australia’s energy transition from polluting fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy, a transition that is well under way in Victoria where the program is filmed.”

MasterChef has always used gas stoves.

Sponsorship aligned with Paramount’s ‘focus’

In announcing the partnership with AGN, Paramount Australia chief sales officer Rod Prosser said it met the company’s sustainability commitment.

“This partnership also aligns with Paramount’s focus on sustainability embedding carbon-neutral energy right into the heart of our production, putting this commitment into action,” he said.

AGN is a subsidiary of Australian Gas Infrastructure Group. Its spokesperson Cathryn McArthur said she hoped the coming weeks of MasterChef would show Australians the “benefits” of “carbon-neutral gas”.

“With help from MasterChef, Paramount and Network Ten, people are going to see the benefits of carbon-neutral gas on display over the next 12 weeks, right in their own living rooms as they watch MasterChef,” she told the ABC.

“It’s a practical demonstration of a low-carbon solution that can be delivered by existing gas networks as we transition to net zero.”

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