As the great debate over fake meat continues, farm groups are pushing for federal regulatory oversight of the products by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They are also requesting the government prohibit the use of commonly known and industry recognized "meat" terms in the labeling and advertising of all lab-grown and plant-based alternatives.
Minnesota State Cattlemen's Association President Krist Wollum says the debate around fake meat is a sensitive one and covers both lab or cell-cultured product and plant-based product. "We have the plant-based proteins that they're trying to call meat and they are really beyond meat. We just don't want them to use that word meat because it's truly not meat," he says.
National meat lobbying groups sent a letter to the White House requesting the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service assert jurisdiction over lab-grown protein. They have also asked USDA and the Food and Drug Administration to clarify the definition of meat and it's legal labeling. National Cattlemen's Beef Association President Kevin Kester says his organization firmly believes the term "beef" should only apply to products derived from actual livestock. He says, "USDA can be trusted to ensure fair and accurate product labels for lab-grown fake meat."
U.S. Cattlemen's Association President Kenny Graner says they've called on Congress and the administration to implement policies that will get ahead of consumer confusion in the marketplace by enforcing truth in labeling and inter-agency dialogue.
In October, livestock interests and other stakeholders, such as fake meat manufacturers, consumer groups and scientists, were asked to participate in a public meeting on lab-grown meat in Washington, D.C., with both agencies. The first day focused on food safety, with the second looking at product labeling and marketing claims. At that time, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association presented its case about why USDA needs to have primary jurisdiction over these products.
At the public meeting, marketing materials from lab-grown fake meat activists were also presented that claimed that clean meat is produced by taking a small sample of animal cells and replicating them outside of the animal. They say the end product is 100-percent real meat, but without the use antibiotics, or the food safety risk of E. coli, salmonella or animal waste. Food scientists exposed the claims as being false and misleading. Barbara Kowalcyk, assistant professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology at Ohio State University says, "Lab grown products will not be sterile because the environment where they are grown in very conducive to the growth of pathogens." She also went on to point out that antimicrobials will be used in these products.
National Cattlemen's Beef Association Executive Vice President of Government Affairs Colin Woodall says the debate between USDA and FDA on who should have regulatory oversight is ongoing. However, he thinks the decision will ultimately be made at the White House. "We're doing everything we can to make sure the president understands that when it comes to this product we need to make sure that USDA inspects it, just like they inspect us. More importantly, that they can prevent the label from being placed on this product that says, 'clean meat,' we don't want that," he says.
The livestock industry is fearful that without any regulation of fake meat products, those companies will be at a competitive advantage to real meat.
"Because they don't have the same regulatory burden that we're going to have," says Woodall. He adds that if they can talk about clean meat, there will be a lot of consumers that will be confused and may try the product.
"I think if we just look at our merits, we don't really have to worry about seeing our market share dwindle when this product comes to market, but we just have to make sure that we are clear with the consumer about what our product is and what their product is," Woodall says.
Wollum says this is an issue they're staying on top of because the dairy producers had the same fight with plant-based or nut-based beverages using the word milk on the label. Woodall says they have pointed out to the president the problems the dairy industry has faced with imitation products being labeled as dairy products.
"Twenty years of the dairy industry trying to get FDA to act is unacceptable.," Woodall says. "We don't have 20 years to wait we need to make that decision now."