U.S. groups raise hackles over the definition of ‘meat’

The issue

The United States Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) has submitted a petition to the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS), asking that labeling rules exclude certain products from being called ‘beef’ or ‘meat’. The group is asking that ‘meat’ only be used as a descriptor for products derived directly from animals (raised and slaughtered), and not those made from plants or insects, or lab-grown products derived from animal cells.

Why does it matter?

To many this is bigger than semantics. It’s about honesty in consumer labeling, and fair competition. It’s also important because it has sparked a discussion surrounding who should regulate these products. Chances are U.S. labeling policy will also have an impact on the words food companies use to describe the same products in Canada.

Who’s supporting the petition?

The National Farmers Union (NFU), the Organization for Competitive Markets, and numerous cattlemen’s association sent letters supporting the petition.

Who’s challenging it?

  • The Good Food Institute and a “coalition of plant-based and clean meat companies” have responded against the petition, arguing the USCA is “asking the government to protect them from competition.” The group suggests the petition should be denied, citing the First Amendment, and the USDA’s authority to protect consumers, not “preference some companies over others.”
  • Perhaps the most surprising is the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), which does not support the petition because the organization does “not believe it will adequately provide meaningful protection for beef nomenclature.” Rather than developing a standard of identity, the group believes the USDA should engage with the Food and Drug Association (FDA) to immediately enforce “action against improperly-labeled imitation products.” To the NCBA, this includes plant-based products, while those grown from cell cultures “fall within the statutory definition of a meat food products.”

Quotes:

“Accurate labeling of U.S. beef products has always been a number one priority for the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association. Our members brought forth their concern with the labeling of products as “meat” that are not in fact derived from bovine animals and USCA leadership and staff moved ahead with this petition to address that concern.” – USCA president Kenny Graner

“It is critical that the federal government step up to the plate and enforce fair and accurate labeling for fake meat. As long as we have a level playing field, our product will continue to be a leading protein choice for families in the United States and around the world.” – Kevin Kester, president of NCBA

“The Cattlemen’s Association should 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.” – Matt Ball, senior media relations specialist with The Good Food Institute.

What’s next:

According to an FSIS spokesperson, the petition “generated significant interest from stakeholders” and the comment period was extended for an additional 30 days (to May 17).

“After the comment period closes, the Agency will review all comments and make a decision on the petition, which will be communicated to the public.”

More Information:

 

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