Alternative protein sector hits back at US cattle farmers

By Aidan Fortune

- Last updated on GMT

Plant-based protein companies have hit back at beef producers
Plant-based protein companies have hit back at beef producers

Related tags Beef Processing and packaging Innovation

A coalition of plant-based and clean meat companies in the US has retaliated against beef producers calling for legislation on meat labels.

Following the United States Cattlemen's Association (USCA) filing a petition with the USDA to “exclude products not derived directly from animals raised and slaughtered from the definition of 'beef' and 'meat'”​, the group of companies claimed the beef producers were more concerned about competition than consumers.

It said: “Both the plant-based and the clean meat from animal cells directly compete, or will soon directly compete against actual beef products that are born, raised and harvested in the traditional manner. Thus, in USCA’s view, both categories should be excluded from the definition of ‘beef’.

Who's in the meat-free coalition?

  • Good Food Institute
  • Tofurky, the largest independent plant-based meat company in the country
  • Lightlife Foods & Field Roast Grain Meat Co, two plant-based meat companies that were recently acquired by Canada’s largest meat company
  • Impossible Foods, a notable innovator in the space that incorporates plant-based heme in its products
  • Finless Foods, a clean meat fish start-up, based in the Bay Area
  • Sweet Earth Foods, a plant-forward company based in Moss Landing, California
  • Hungry Planet, a company producing premium plant-based meat for culinary professionals

​Fear of competition – not consumer protection – is at the heart of the USCA’s plea to the government.

The coalition believes the USCA’s petition should be denied for two reasons.

​The proposal asks USDA to go beyond its statutory authority. The USDA is authorised to use its labelling authority to protect consumers, but it cannot legally use that authority to preference some companies over others. The proposal would violate the First Amendment, which protects the speech of plant-based and clean meat companies. As long as consumers are not misled, they have a free speech right to call their products what they are.

​It is important to emphasise just how wrong the USCA is. As discussed at greater length in our reply, the USDA is only authorised to regulate meat labels to protect the health and welfare of consumers, not to prop up an industry or favour one production method over another. Moreover, because the Cattlemen’s petition asks that USDA only allow meat terms on products that are produced in 'the traditional manner', it would put the USDA in the untenable position of policing the  ‘traditionality’ of how meat is produced.”

It urged the USCA to ​support a fair marketplace and take cues from others in the meat industry, including Tyson, Cargill, Maple Leaf Foods, and PHW Group, that are seeing the future and adapting accordingly​.

In other news, French politicians recently voted in favour of banning food producers from labelling vegetarian-based products as a meat item​. 

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