Traditional vs Clean Meat: Cattlemen Ring the Bell for Round 1

February 15, 2018By Riëtte van Laack & Ricardo Carvajal

Clean or cultured meat are terms used for animal muscle produced by growing cells directly rather than via the rearing and slaughtering of an animal. The idea of growing meat (or muscle) from cells outside the body (in vitro) to produce a product that replicates the characteristics of a product obtained from muscle harvested from slaughtered animals has been contemplated for a long time. In recent years, tools have been developed that have made the commercial production of a muscle food product in vitro a real possibility. As startup companies in the United States and elsewhere have gotten closer to getting an actual product to the market, the regulation of this type of product has become a topic of discussion.

Many questions arise. Who will regulate this product, USDA, FDA, or both agencies? How should this type of product be named? If it is grown from muscle cells and looks and tastes like meat, should it be called meat? And if yes, how should it be distinguished from traditionally produced meat which is obtained from a carcass after an animal has been slaughtered?

Apparently concerned about the effect the marketing of this type of meat product may have on the “traditional” industry, the United States Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) filed a petition with the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) asking that FSIS establish formal definitions of “meat” and “beef” that exclude what petitioners call lab grown meat and products prepared from plant or insect protein. USCA asks that FSIS require that any “product labeled as ‘beef’ come from cattle that have been born, raised, and harvested in the traditional manner,” rather than from “alternative” sources such as a synthetic product from plant, insects, or any product grown in laboratories from animal cells. USCA further asks that FSIS narrow the definition of “meat” to “the flesh of animals that have been harvested in the traditional way,” and that FSIS add these new definitions to the FSIS Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book.

In support of its petition, USCA discusses the definition of “meat” and “beef” in common dictionaries and by USDA, the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC’s) truth in advertising standard, and the labeling of “alternative products” as beef and meat in the market place. Somewhat surprisingly, USCA also cites FDA’s actions regarding Just Mayo in support of its petition; although FDA initially objected to that name for a product that failed to meet the standard of identity for mayonnaise by virtue of not containing egg, the Agency ultimately allowed the marketing of the product with that name provided that the product was clearly identified as egg-free.

This Petition formalizes regulatory consideration of an issue that until now was being considered informally, and bears watching on that basis alone. The Petition is limited to beef. Since development of clean pork and poultry is proceeding apace, it will be interesting to see if traditional producers of those animal products will follow USCA’s lead. We will be keeping an eye on this issue as it unfolds.

A hat tip to K&H’s The Daily INTAKE for putting this petition on our radar.