This month, Xuemeng Chen explains why we need a clear food label on what is “meat.”
On February 9, 2018, the US Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) made a petition to the Department of Agriculture and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to add certain food labeling requirements on the term of “beef” and, more broadly, on “meat” products. They advocated to only use the label of “beef” and/or “meat” if a product was “derived from an animal born, raised, and harvested in the traditional manner” (USCA, 2018). Thus, plant-based meat, insect-derived meat, and clean/cultured meat that is grown in laboratories should be excluded from being labelled as “meat” products.
USCA made a splash in the meat industry with this petition. The USCA’s main concern was that improper food labeling on “beef” or “meat” deceived consumers. Companies of alternative protein source products such as Beyond Meat and Memphis Meat, argued that data has shown a trend in the reduction of meat consumption in the US, and approval of USCA’s petition would hinder food innovation in the protein-based food industry (Watson, 2018). In addition, they thought that the USCA made such a petition in order to protect the traditional meat market demand for alternative protein sources increases (Urbi, 2018).
What about labeling alternative proteins as “clean/cultured” meat? Memphis Meat said their cultured meat was meat because it was derived from true animal cells and has the same nutrient compositions as meat harvested from animals (Watson, 2018). The end product is the same, but the process is different. Technically, this does not meet FSIS’s definition of meat, which must be harvested from animals in the traditional manner.
In addition to the consumer confusion regarding labeling of meat products, food inspection is another concern. FSIS will not do inspections on plant proteins, insect proteins, and clean meats since they are not coming from slaughtered animals. So whose responsibility is it to inspect these food items, and under what guidelines, to ensure it is safe for consumers?
Indeed, alternative protein source products are a trend right now according to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, n.d.), and such food innovation should not be discouraged, as FDA stated (Watson, 2018). But a clear food labeling on “meat” is necessary, because consumers should simply have a right to know what they are eating, even if it is a safe alternative. One solution to this meat fight could be to disclose the origin of a protein-based product (true meat or not) so that consumers can make an appropriate purchasing decision based on a comprehensive understanding. In addition, related food safety guidelines on alternative protein source products should be established.
In November 2018, an updated on this meat fight was announced by FDA and USDA, that they decided to have a joint regulatory framework on the regulatory oversight of clean/cultured meat. FDA would oversee the cell harvest stage including cell collection, cell banks, and cell growth and differentiation, while USDA would oversee the production and labeling of cell-cultured meat (Watson, 2018). Of course, more work on developing standards and guidelines will need to be done, and whether to label alternative protein sources and cell-cultured meat as “meat” still need to be determined, it was great news to hear that agencies made some positive actions regarding this issue.
- OECD. “Meat consumption, beef and veal.” Retrieved from: https://data.oecd.org/agroutput/meat-consumption.htm (accessed 27 January 2019).
- Urbi, J. “The fight against ‘fake meat’ has officially begun.” CNBC 23 February 2018. Retrieved from: https://www.cnbc.com/2018/02/23/the-fight-against-fake-meat-has-officially-begun.html (accessed 27 January 2019).
- USDA, Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). “Petition for the imposition of beef and meat labeling requirements: To excluded products not derived directly from animals raised and slaughtered from the definition of ‘beef’ and ‘meat’.” February 9, 2018. Retrieved from: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/wcm/connect/e4749f95-e79a-4ba5-883b-394c8bdc97a3/18-01-Petition-US-Cattlement-Association020918.pdf?MOD=AJPERES (accessed 27 January 2019).
- Watson, E. “Approving cattlemen’s petition would have a ‘chilling’ effect on food innovation, says Memphis Meat.” Foodnavigator May 2, 2018. Retrieved from: https://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Article/2018/05/02/Approving-cattlemen-s-petition-would-have-a-chilling-effect-on-food-innovation-says-Memphis-Meats (accessed 27 January 2019).
- Watson, E. “FDA, USDA, to share regulatory oversight of cell-cultured meat, poultry: ‘it has seemed clear for months that shared jurisdictions was inevitable,’ says attorney.” November 17, 2018 Retrieved from: https://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Article/2018/11/17/FDA-USDA-to-share-regulatory-oversight-of-cell-cultured-meat (accessed 26 February 2019).
Xuemeng Chen is a Dietetic Intern from Frances Stern Nutrition Center.