What is Beef? Round TwoApril 20, 2018
As we previously reported, the United States Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) filed a Petition with the 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. Until April 17, the majority of comments submitted have been in support of the petition.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, (NCBA), however, does not support the Petition. As described in its comment to the Petition, the NCBA does not believe that the action requested by USCA “will adequately provide meaningful protection for beef nomenclature.” In contrast to the USCA, the NCBA wants FSIS to assert jurisdiction over foods produced from cell or tissue culture that are derived from livestock and poultry animals or their parts, so as to ensure a level playing field. NCBA takes the position that, since cell-cultured or lab-grown meat products are derived from parts of a carcass, in this case stem cells, these products fall squarely within the definition of meat food product. Even if this were not the case, NCBA believes that “FSIS should assert jurisdiction as a means of ensuring regulatory equity.”
As to the labeling of the product, NCBA seems of two minds. It asserts that the cultured meat should not be permitted to be marketed as beef. Yet, it argues that, if the producers of lab-grown or cultured meat products wish to call these products meat, they must adhere to the same food safety inspection standards and comply with the same labeling standards as traditional meat food products; only in that way can “arbitrary marketing claims,” such as “clean meat,” be avoided.
As far as products that clearly fall outside USDA’s jurisdiction are concerned, such as products made from insects or plants, or other non-animal products, NCBA suggests that FSIS ask FDA to take appropriate and immediate enforcement action against allegedly mislabeled imitation beef products.
In a joint comment, the Good Food Institute, Field Roast Grain Meat Co., Finless Foods, Hungry Planet, Impossible Foods, Lightlife, Sweet Earth Enlightened Foods and the Tofurky Company (collectively GFI) also oppose the USCA Petition. GFI’s comments focus primarily on plant-based products. GFI argues that FSIS lacks authority over the labeling of such products, and that any restriction to the truthful use of the terms “meat” or “beef” with appropriate qualifiers that accurately disclose the nature of the plant-based product would violate the First Amendment.
As far as cultured meat is concerned, GFI’s comments suggest that it believes that these products may be under FSIS jurisdiction. Referring to dictionary definitions for “meat,” GFI argues that meat does not require slaughter. In a footnote, GFI requests that FSIS work closely with what it calls “clean meat companies” to determine the appropriate labeling for these products. GFI opposes USCA’s request to limit the definition of beef to meat that comes from cattle “that have been raised and harvested in the traditional manner.” GFI contends that FSIS does not have the authority to “prop up an industry or favor one production method over another,” and that such narrowing of the definition would inhibit innovation across the industry. Moreover, GFI points out that what is traditional is subject to interpretation; arguably, current methods of cattle production are not traditional.
On April 13, FSIS announced that it was extending the comment period for the petition (which was set to close on April 17) by another 30 days. Comments submitted after April 13 are posted on regulations.gov.
Meanwhile, in a March 28, 2018 letter to GAO, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-CT requested that GAO “investigate what regulatory framework, if any exists for cell-cultured food products and how this framework compares to other international approaches,” e.g., those in Canada, Japan, and the European Union. According to the request, such information is needed for Congress to address this emerging issue and ensure that it is “properly overseen by the relevant . . . agencies” once these types of products becomes commercially available.