Meat label art

Livestock producers are asking for a level playing field when it comes to labeling cell- or plant-based “meat” products.

Danielle Beck, senior director of government affairs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said she is hopeful more direct governmental involvement in labeling will help clarify the products for consumers.

“When the regulations were written, we could have never predicted this type of technology,” she said.

Beck said the NCBA is asking for “rigorous oversight” of labeling when it comes to the cell- and plant-based products.

“All meat is inspected daily by FSIS (Food Safety Inspection Service) because of the unique risks involved — because we put consumer safety first,” she said. “We want to see this with these products.”

She also cited a mandatory label approval requirement from the USDA.

“If it’s not approved, it can’t legally enter the market,” Beck said. “Lab-grown products need to be on a level playing field with the rest of us.”

FSIS and the Food and Drug Administration met in October to consider labeling the new products. Last month, the agencies announced a formal agreement to jointly oversee production of the new products.

The FDA will oversee cell collection, cell banks and cell growth and differentiation. Oversight during the cell harvesting stage will transition to FSIS, and FSIS will also oversee the production and labeling of food products derived from the cells of livestock and poultry.

“Consumers trust the USDA mark of inspection to ensure safe, wholesome and accurately labeled products,” USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Mindy Brashears said in a press release. “We look forward to continued collaboration with the FDA and our stakeholders to safely regulate these new products and ensure parity in labeling.”

“We were thrilled with the agreement,” Beck said. “We have pushed to have USDA more involved. We feel it will protect the beef nomenclature.”

She said while plant-based products have been in the market for some time, cell-based products are not yet available.

“We have seen products that bleed and sizzle like real meat,” Beck said. “They are going after that real-meat label.”

The news was also positive for the pork industry, said Dan Kovich, director of science and technology for the National Pork Producers Council.

He said consumers associate certain things with products labeled as pork.

“The micronutrient profile of pork is very different from a lab-based product,” Kovich said. “Pork is very much understood by the consumer, and we feel consumers have a right to know the difference.”

He said while lab-grown pork products are being developed, he is not sure when they might be available.

“We have to work on this because we aren’t going to be immune to it,” Kovich said. “Something like breakfast sausage, for example, could be a target. All we are asking for is clarity in labeling.”

Jeff DeYoung is livestock editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.