WATCH: What are 'milk,' 'meat,' and 'eggs?' And what do we call animal products as they become decoupled from animals?

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags animal-free animal-free dairy alternative protein cell-cultured meat cell-cultured milk Microbial fermentation

Meat, egg, and dairy ‘alternatives’ usually come with qualifying language (plant-based eggs; meatless nuggets, oatmilk). But what should we call next generation products that are not simply mimicking the real thing, but in many cases, are the ‘real’ thing, just produced in a different way?

And what if animal proteins are made from plants? Is ‘real’ dairy protein (casein) produced by genetically engineered soybeans ‘plant-based’? Or is that going to confuse shoppers with milk allergies?

Does it make sense to call animal proteins made in fermentation tanks by genetically engineered soybeans ‘animal-free’? And are they vegan? Does ‘vegan’ (a term currently undefined by the FDA) mean ‘made without animals,’ or does it mean no animal products, regardless of how they are made?

If, in 50 years’ time, most of our ‘milk’ is produced by lactating mammary cells in a bioreactor, instead of our bovine companions, meanwhile, will companies making the white stuff we grew up with end up being the odd ones out in the category?

Will they need to add the qualifier ‘cow’s’ before the term ‘milk’ on product labels in order to ensure consumers are not misled? Will animal-based meat ultimately be the exception to the rule in a category dominated by plant-based, fermentation-based, and cell-cultured meat products?

And what does all this mean for retailers, who are already finding that the catch-all term ‘plant-based’ doesn’t accurately describe some of the new products being pitched to their buyers, from fungi-, algae-, protist-, or bacteria-based bacon, steaks and cream cheese to ‘animal-free’ dairy products containing milk allergens that are made without cows?

Check out our slide-show exploring animal-free dairy and cell-cultured milk, fungi-based meat and ‘real’ honey, minus the bees…

(Main picture: Gettyimages/Artis777)

Interested in the next generation of food proteins?


Check out our FREE webinar​​ ​​on September 15: Protein 2.0: from plant-based to fungi, lemna, bacteria, and more...​​

In our debate​​​​, moderated by FoodNavigator-USA editor Elaine Watson, we’ll discuss:

  • Protein potential:​​​ Assessing the market opportunity for plant-based and ‘alternative’ proteins
  • The investor perspective​​​: How are investors viewing the protein landscape?
  • Yield and sustainability​​​: What’s the greenest, most efficient way to make high-quality food protein?
  • Comparing proteins​​​: Taste, performance, nutrition
  • Consumers and next-generation proteins:​​​ Labeling, marketing

Register HERE.

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