Ill considered’ cattlemen’s petition ‘would cause chaos’ in the marketplace,’ claims North American Meat Institute

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Chef Uri Navon experiments with Future Meat Technologies' cultured chicken at Jerusalem’s award-winning restaurant Machneyuda
Chef Uri Navon experiments with Future Meat Technologies' cultured chicken at Jerusalem’s award-winning restaurant Machneyuda
Attempts by the US Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) to restrict use of the terms ‘beef’ and ‘meat’ to products from animals ‘born, raised, and harvested in the traditional manner,’ are “ill considered,” claims the North American Meat Institute (NAMI).

While cattle farmers are concerned about how cultured meat – which is produced from animal cells but does not involve raising or slaughtering animals - might impact the meat industry as we know it, leading meat processors see it as an opportunity rather than a threat, according to comments submitted to the USDA this week responding to USCA's petition.

In a comment to USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), NAMI - which represents meat processors including Tyson and Cargill that have both invested in cultured meat start-ups - urged officials to reject the cattlemen's petition, in part because it could stifle innovation.

"It would be unwise for FSIS to adopt an interpretation that weds the livestock and meat industry to practices and procedures used today, when tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that, a new and better manner may come along."

Should the FSIS act to define the terms ‘beef’ and ‘meat,’ it should do so via a notice-and-comment rulemaking, rather than by amending its labeling guidance, as requested by the Cattlemen, added NAMI SVP regulatory and scientific affairs Mark Dopp.

NAMI: Deceptive labeling looms if USDA cedes oversight to the FDA

However, he also argued (as cultured meat companies have not) that were FSIS to approve the petition, and perhaps cede jurisdiction of cultured meat products to the FDA, this could “cause chaos in the marketplace​.”

While every meat and poultry product label is approved by the USDA, the FDA does “not utilize a similar ​[pre-market] approval process, sometimes resulting in deceptively labeled products being offered in the market,​” claimed Dopp.

Because FDA does not approve labels ​[before products go to market] and given FDA’s limited enforcement resources on issues unrelated to food safety, it is imperative FSIS ensure lab grown products are subject to the agency’s jurisdiction and regulatory requirements.”

CSPI: Cultured and plant-based meat cos will provide context and qualifiers for shoppers

However, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) – which also urges USDA to reject the petition - argued that the FDA and the FTC (not USDA/FSIS) are the most appropriate agencies to oversee cultured meat labeling and marketing.

It added: “The federal government need not restrict the use of the words ‘meat’ and ‘beef’ on such products to avoid consumer confusion, provided the terms are used (as they typically are) with appropriate clarifying context. The action requested in the petition is therefore unnecessary to avoid consumer confusion.”

Any potential for confusion on labels of plant-based or cultured meat would likely come “not from use of the terms ‘meat’ or ‘beef’ to describe the alternative protein, but from the lack of additional clarifying context​,” suggested the CSPI.

Cultured-Beef-Dr Mark Post

While no cultured meat products are on the market yet, a handful of players from Mosameat​​​​ in the Netherlands; to Aleph Farms​​​​, Future Meat Technologies​, and SuperMeat​​​​ in Israel; Memphis Meats,​​​ Finless Foods​​​ ​, Wild Type​​ ​​and Just Inc​​​​ in the US; and Integriculture​​​​ in Japan; are looking to introduce them over the next five years, prompting some lawmakers to question whether a new regulatory framework is required.​

Stakeholder comments

Below is a selection of the latest comments on the US Cattlemen's petition​​​. Click HERE​​​ to view all of the comments (the deadline has now passed).

CSPI​: Rather than serving consumers, the petition represents a self-interested attempt to restrict healthy competition between industries vying for space at the center of the American plate.  

The American Simmental Association​: FSIS should require the broad definition of ‘meat’ to be necessarily limited to tissue or flesh derived from animals that have been harvested in the traditional manner. This would exclude products derived from alternative sources such as synthetic or laboratory generated products from plants, insects, non-animal components, or animals and the cells derived from plants, insects, non-animal components, or animals.

Aleph Farms​ (Israeli clean meat co): The intent of the petition is exclusively for the economic enrichment of the USCA members at the expense of consumer choice, technological advancement in food production, environmental and consumer health, and is not conducive to meeting the established need for balanced growth of food production in a manner that benefits society in a sustainable manner.

Aleph Farms notes that various fruits and vegetables are currently grown using hydroponic systems. Lettuce is defined by the Marriam-Webster dictionary as any of a genus (Lactuca) of composite plants; especially: a common garden vegetable (L. sativa) whose succulent leaves are used especially in salads. The traditional means for planting, growing, and harvesting lettuce in soil differs from more novel practices of growing lettuce under hydroponic conditions; however, the consumer identity of lettuce is not defined by the particular cultivation condition.

Aleph Farms agrees with USCA that the common names of beef and meat are widely understood by consumers to be the tissue or flesh of animals; however, Aleph Farms disagrees that the understanding of meat as beef tissue is contingent upon the requirement for the meat to be derived from an animal born, raised and slaughtered in a traditional manner.

Humane Society of the United States: We recognize that as global demand for meat increases, society will need new methods of meat production that, alongside traditional livestock production, can help feed the world. For this reason, we strongly believe that ‘clean’ or ‘cultured’ meat, as well as plant-based meat, have an important role to play in the future of food… At such a critical junction for meeting the demand for a growing global population, these technologies should be actively and strongly supported, rather than suppressed.

Wild Type​ (US cultured seafood co): Rather than develop new policy that limits truthful labels, we look to USDA to foster innovation in order to provide consumers with additional nutritious product choices... Granting the Petitioner’s request would also preclude the US Department of Agriculture from entering into a meaningful discussion with all relevant stakeholders, including companies like Wild Type, consumers, non-governmental organizations, and others. We welcome the opportunity to engage with these organizations, current producers of meat, poultry, and fish, as well as the USDA and other governmental agencies to increase options for consumers and ensure clear and truthful labels.

Finless Foods​ (US cultured seafood co): Clean meat satisfies all the fundamental characteristics of meat, in that it is 1) derived from a certain species of livestock; 2) from a certain part of that animal; and 3) non-living. 
We respectfully request that USDA deny the Petition. Instead, we urge USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to work together to determine the appropriate regulatory framework for clean/cultured meat and poultry under existing authorities and policies.

PATH ​(international nonprofit): Traditional livestock production is responsible for considerable shares of global water pollution, land degradation, overfishing, greenhouse gas emissions, and antimicrobial resistance… New and innovative methods for protein production hold the potential for significant transformative impact for the health of both people and the planet we share… Limitations on product labeling will make it difficult for these [cultured meat] products to attract the investment needed to be produced and brought to market.

Memphis Meats ​(US cultured meat co): Clean/cultured meat is, in fact, muscle that is skeletal or otherwise derived from appropriate parts of livestock species or poultry and has the same functional, compositional, and nutritional characteristics as conventionally produced meat or poultry. As such, it meets the relevant product category definitions and should be able to be labeled appropriately as meat, poultry, or other species- or product-specific terms. ​Read more HERE​.  

Daniel Maher:​ Please keep the terms 'beef' and 'meat' to mean products born raised and harvested from living animals, not something derived from plant material or a petri dish.

George E Weaver​: Please keep beef out of the laboratory and on range land as was intended.

Thomas Hammett: Food-type materials produced in a laboratory are new products, and should carry a new nomenclature. Anything else is deception.

Allan Sents​: While some groups may oppose livestock production methods or claim various health impacts from meat consumption, it is important those agendas do not interfere with the consumer’s ultimate right to make their own informed decision about those issues. For alternative products to hide under traditionally understood terms would be a great injustice to honest labeling.

The Good Food Institute:​ ​USDA is authorized only to regulate meat labels to protect the health and welfare of consumers, not to prop up an industry or favor one production method over another.

Brian Karakas: There is no reason why anything other than a slaughtered animal can't be called ‘meat.’ The fact that the meat industry believes that plant based meat substitutes will confuse the consumer just goes to show that the animal agriculture industries think their primary consumers are morons.

Chris Edwards: I believe consumers will have no trouble distinguishing between traditional meat products and the various alternatives as long as descriptive words are added to clarify the origins of the product.

Dwight Keller​​The Independent Beef Association of North Dakota: Non-beef products which use the term ‘beef' in the product name are very likely to cause customer confusion… the definition of ‘meat’ should be limited to the tissue or flesh of animals that have been harvested in the traditional manner. Food products derived from alternative sources such as a synthetic product from plant, insects, or other non-animal components and any product grown in labs from animal cells should not be labeled as ‘meat.’ These products need to create their own identity.

Lynn Martin: I do not want GMOs, fake meat or farmed fish in our food system.​​

Anonymous: The food industry has gone so far off track with these ideas that I can't make sense of any of it. I don't support GMOs or farmed fish, and I hope this stuff is clearly labeled so consumers will know exactly what they're buying! Then again, the Dark Act prevented us from knowing what's inside our food, so it wouldn't surprise me if the veil of darkness falls upon fake meat now too. It's insanity to me."

Gabriella Bucci: If you permit the word ‘meat’ to be used only for tissue from the flesh of animals harvested in the traditional way, you will create a monopoly for animal farmers. You will stifle competition. This is exactly why this petition is before you--animal farmers are scared of competition. However competition is what capitalism is all about. Competition is good for consumers and good for the economy because competition provides incentives to develop new products and advance technology. As an economist, I oppose anything that stifles competition. You should too.

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