Editor’s note: The following was written by Jonathan A. Campbell, Tara L. Felix, Elizabeth Hines and Robert M. Chiles, Extension specialists at Pennsylvania State University, for the Penn State Extension website.
Regardless of an individual’s personal views on alternative protein foods, this new technology is progressing rapidly, and it may compete for future market share in the meat sector.
In an attempt to clarify the “meat” labeling question, the state of Missouri recently took a step to clearly define that “meat” sold in the state had to come from “livestock or poultry carcass[es] or part[s] thereof” (Senate Bill 627 & 925). This legislation agrees with perspectives shared by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association.
While this bit of legislation in Missouri was sparked by plant-based products being labeled as “meat,” the argument on a national level remains to be determined.
What will be in a package of beef in the future?
Groups opposed to this type of legislation argue this law is unconstitutional and violates first amendment rights. However, according to the United States government (21 U.S. Code § 601(j)), meat “is made wholly or in part from any meat or other portion of the carcass of any cattle, sheep, swine or goats.”
It is this term “in part” that plays a significant role in interpretation of the law, hence the labeling dilemma.
Ag groups react
Concerns about regulation and labeling have been emphasized by numerous livestock organizations, not just the
NCBA. These organization include: National Pork Producers Council, National Chicken Council, National Turkey Federation, American Sheep Industry Association and the American Farm Bureau Federation.
In response to a meeting hosted by the FDA on July 12, 2018, this group of concerned meat and livestock organizations directly addressed the current regulation quandary in a group letter to President Trump on July 26, 2018. This letter indicates the signatories’ support for the USDA to regulate cell-culture-based meat products.
The group supports the current role of the USDA in regulation and preservation of fair competition in the meat market place.
Through the current role of the USDA in facilitating daily inspection and food safety of current meat production, this group suggests that consistency of this role across all meat products will prevent confusion among consumers from misleading regulations and labeling.
In contrast, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association is currently pushing for separate labels altogether to be used on cell-cultured vs. farm-raised meat products. The USCA argues that the labeling of cell-cultured products as “beef” detracts from the brand that cattle producers have worked hard to acquire and uphold for their product.
Similarly, cell-cultured meat production stakeholders, including Memphis Meats, sent a joint letter to the White House on Aug. 23 of last year requesting that cell-cultured food products be regulated by the FDA during the product development phase.
However, it was also requested in their letter to transition monitoring responsibility to the USDA to ensure post-market safety and labeling compliance.
Leaders representing the North American Meat Institute supported letters submitted to the current administration from both the livestock and cell-cultured meat production focused groups.
The regulatory debate surrounding cell-cultured meat products is quite dynamic. Stakeholder alliances that are evolving may indicate that this debate is far from being settled.
Currently, regulation of safe food production is handled between the FDA and USDA-
FSIS. FDA-inspected food is governed by the Food Safety Modernization Act, whereas USDA-FSIS establishments comply with the Pathogen Reduction Act and HACCP-based inspection.
Although complying with these regulatory acts have similar goals in safety, some of the regulatory statutes differ in design and methods of regulatory compliance.
Companies producing cell culture-based meat products argue that the food is produced in a sterile environment, and therefore, should not be subjected to USDA-FSIS oversight, hence the verbiage “clean” meat.
But it should be similarly noted that meat from healthy livestock is also produced in a “sterile” environment. The act of cutting into the carcass, and thus exposing tissue to outside contaminants, is what initiates the risk of food-borne pathogen contamination.
Regardless of the environment where cell-cultured meat is manufactured, the product that is being consumed will eventually be exposed to the same packaging materials and storage conditions as traditional wholesale and retail “meat” products.
This inevitable exposure would place cell-cultured meat products at similar risks of contamination as meat derived from whole tissue cuts of livestock.
Food safety concerns should remain at the top of the list when considering how to handle regulations among all methods of meat production.