Cattlemen’s Debate: What to Call Fake Meat? Who Should Regulate?

Two cattlemen’s organizations are debating what to call lab-grown “meat,” and within that debate is who should regulate the emerging product and possible competitor to beef. ( Shutterstock )

A debate on which regulatory agency should enforce fake meat products is being had by two cattlemen’s groups as lab-grown “meat” is still being developed.

At issue between the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) and the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) is what to call cell-cultured, lab-grown “meat.” If the product is called “meat” it would then be regulated by USDA, under current rules and regulations. However, if the product isn’t called “meat” it would move to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

On July 26, several animal agriculture industry organizations known as the “the Barnyard,” sent a letter to President Donald Trump asking him for assurance USDA will be the primary regulator of cell-cultured, lab-grown meat.

The Barnyard includes NCBA, American Farm Bureau Federation, American Sheep Industry Association, National Chicken Council, National Pork Producers Council, National Turkey Federation and North American Meat Institute. They believe USDA is better suited to regulate lab-grown meat than FDA.

“USDA is uniquely equipped to ensure both elements: inspectors are on-site daily, and USDA approves all product labels to ensure products are what they claim to be and to prevent consumers from being misled. Meat and poultry processing companies have been meeting the challenge of USDA inspection for decades. Cell-cultured meat and poultry companies can and should meet the same requirements,” the Barnyard coalition’s letter says.

In a statement about the letter, NCBA President Kevin Kester says President Trump was elected to level the playing field for American products globally.

“Now, the President has the chance to demonstrate his support for free and fair markets right here at home. By supporting USDA oversight of lab-grown fake meat, the President will protect American consumers and ensure that America’s farmers and ranchers are not disadvantaged in the marketplace,” Kester says.

In response to the letter sent by the Barnyard group, a statement by USCA supported discussion on regulations but questioned if USDA is better suited than FDA.

“USCA has called on Congress and the Administration to engage on this pivotal issue and implement policies that will get out ahead of consumer confusion in the marketplace by enforcing truth in labeling and facilitating inter-agency dialogue. Cell-cultured protein needs to be labeled for what it is – an alternative food product that is not beef or meat as consumers currently know it.  As new technologies continue to emerge, a one-sized fits all governmental approach will simply not work,” says Kenny Graner, USCA president.

USCA sent a letter petitioning USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service requesting that cell-cultured, lab-grown products not be allowed to be labeled “meat” or “beef.” Graner adds that USDA will need “to continue to engage on this issue by remaining a part of the greater dialogue and issuing a response to that petition.”

The debate on what to call alternative-protein products like lab-grown meat could be all for naught as the Trump Administration has proposed a government reorganization plan that would move federal food safety functions into a single agency housed within the USDA.

Currently, the food safety inspection for products is split between the agencies depending on how the product is made. For instance, pepperoni pizza is enforced by USDA because it contains meat and goes through three separate USDA inspections. A cheese pizza would only need to be inspected once by FDA.

For more on plant-based and lab-grown meat labeling read the following stories: