The Real MEAT Act 2019: Plant-based brands should use term 'imitation' meat

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

The lack of a federal definition of beef or beef products has created the “opportunity for marketplace confusion and consumer fraud," claim the bill's authors
The lack of a federal definition of beef or beef products has created the “opportunity for marketplace confusion and consumer fraud," claim the bill's authors

Related tags: plant-based meat, Good Food Institute, cattlemen

A federal bill that would require plant-based and cell-cultured meat products to be labeled as ‘imitation’ meat has been welcomed by beef producers and slammed by plant-based meat advocates, as the row over terminology in the burgeoning space heats up.

The Real Marketing Edible Artificials Truthfully (MEAT) Act of 2019​ (a.k.a. The Real MEAT Act) – introduced to the US House of Representatives by Anthony Brindisi (D-NY) and Roger Marshall (R-KS) - states that ‘any imitation meat food product, beef, or beef product shall be deemed to be misbranded unless its label bears... the word ‘imitation’ immediately before or after the name of the food and a statement that clearly indicates the product is not derived from or does not contain meat.’

The bill also sets out to define ‘beef’ or ‘beef product’ as “any product containing edible meat tissue harvested in whole form from domesticated Bos indicus or Bos taurus cattle​,” which would exclude both plant-based and cell-cultured meat.

The term ‘meat food product’ is defined as human food derived from the carcass of cattle, sheep, swine, or goats.

The term ‘imitation meat food product’ is defined as “any product manufactured to appear as a meat food product or any food product which approximates the aesthetic qualities (primarily texture, flavor, and appearance) and/or chemical characteristics of specific types of meat but does not contain any meat, meat food product, or meat byproduct ingredients.”

USCA: 'Beef' comes from the flesh of a bovine animal

The bill was welcomed by Lia Biondo, director of policy and outreach at the US Cattlemen's Association, who said it “satisfies part of USCA’s ask to USDA FSIS in its 2018 petition for rulemaking by defining ‘beef’ as a product that is derived exclusively from the flesh of a bovine animal."

"A growing number of fake meat products are clearly trying to mislead consumers about what they’re trying to get them to buy,” ​added National Cattlemen's Beef Association president Jennifer Houston. “Consumers need to be protected from deceptive marketing practices, and cattle producers need to be able to compete on a fair, level playing field."

However, Jessica Almy, director of policy at the Good Food Institute – which promotes plant-based and cell-cultured meat - said there was no evidence shoppers were in the least bit confused, and slammed the bill as a "bald-faced attempt to get the government to police food labels to benefit the conventional meat industry, not consumers.”

She added: “We are confident that Congress will see this bill for what it is — unnecessary government overreach — and we do not expect it will get much traction."

PBFA: 'No one is trying to trick consumers into thinking they are buying meat from animals'

While the authors of the new bill say the lack of any federal definition of beef or beef products has created the “opportunity for marketplace confusion and consumer fraud,”​ there is no evidence that consumers are confused by veggie burgers or other products, which all use qualifiers from ‘meatless’ to ‘plant-based’ or ‘vegan,’ Plant Based Foods Association executive director Michele Simon told us in a recent interview.  

“No one is trying to trick consumers into thinking they are buying meat from animals.”

Jaime Athos, CEO of Tofurky, which uses terms such as chick’n, burgers, bacon, ham and sausages – all with modifiers such as ‘vegan,’ ‘vegetarian,’ or ‘plant-based' - added: “For so many of us growing up with an animal-centric diet, meat products serve as a the best reference points for consumers, ​​​but it’s never been our intention to deceive consumers.

"Our value proposition is because​​​ we’re plant-based, that’s why consumers are buying our products. ​​​Why should consumers have to navigate a confusing new nomenclature that we’d all have to invent?”

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