Cattlemen’s Groups Voice Concerns with Lab-grown Meat to USDA, FDA

The debate on lab-grown meats is still ongoing as several cattlemen’s groups had the chance to voice their apprehensions to two government agencies about labeling the products “beef” or “meat” and what it could mean for food safety.

In a joint public meeting hosted by the USDA and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) called “The Use of Cell Culture Technology to Develop Products Derived from Livestock and Poultry” a comment period was held at the end where members of national and state cattlemen’s groups shared concerns about the emerging food technology.

Words and claims matter to consumers when it comes to clarifying cell-cultured protein from meat derived from livestock says Kevin Kester, 5th generation rancher from California and president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA).

“Lab-grown, fake meat labels should be held to the same standards as other meat labels. Given that the goal of these products is to compete directly with real meat, only USDA oversight can adequately ensure this outcome,” Kester says.

Kester points out that several lab-grown meat companies have started to disparage against real meat or beef in their marketing before the products have become available. These would include terms like “clean meat.” Kester and NCBA believe that “USDA can be trusted to enforce truthful and transparent labeling of the products under its jurisdiction.”

The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) is hesitant to allow lab-grown or cell-cultured meat to be called “beef” or “meat.” Danni Beer, past president for USCA and 3rd generation rancher in South Dakota, says that beef checkoff funding should not be used to fund promotion of the products.

“It is wrong for beef producers to pay to promote a cell-cultured product. And it is wrong for any part of our beef checkoff dollars to be used to promote cell-cultured proteins either domestically or internationally,” Beer says.

“The alternative protein industry should not be allowed to villainize the beef cattle industry. U.S. beef is among the most sustainably produced beef in the world and we strive to better our cattle and beef product everyday,” Beer adds.

Fair and accurate food labels are needed for these products according to JanLee Rowlett, government and regulatory affairs manager at the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association.

“Fair and accurate labeling of meat food products, no matter how they are produced, means the same labeling standards across the board. ‘Beef’ and other terms consumers associate with meat products made from livestock raised by farmers and ranchers should be used to describe only those products, not those produced through cell-cultured technology,” Rowlett says.

Cell-cultured products shouldn’t have the same labels as those from livestock believes Eric Sumption, 4th generation cattlemen representing South Dakota Stock Growers.

“FDA and FSIS have a responsibility to ensure that food labels are not false or misleading,” Sumption says. “All consumers have the right to know what they are purchasing. This new cell-cultured technology should not be allowed to take advantage of the reputation family farmers and ranchers have worked so hard to build.”

South Dakota feedlot owner and cow-calf producer Brett Kenzy expressed his views on cell-cultured meat saying it should not be called “meat,” “beef,” “poultry” or “seafood.”

“USDA and FSIS are funded by American tax paying consumers. These agencies -comprised of bright and well-meaning people oversee the safest, most humane and environmentally safe beef production system in the world,” Kenzy says. “That said, past performance is the best indicator of future results. Unfortunately, the USDA and FSIS’s inability to operate independent of political influences has allowed financial and trade pressures to compromise truthfulness in labeling.”

While representing himself at the meeting the Kenzy did have the support of Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA), which shared his full comments on Facebook afterwards. Kenzy is a member of R-CALF USA according to the organization. 

Kenzy voiced displeasure with current meat labeling regulations regarding “Product of U.S.A.” rules and points out that two packers, Tyson Foods and Cargill, have invested in lab-grown meat companies.

Sharing similar thoughts as NCBA in regards to USDA having jurisdiction on inspection was Justin Oldfield, vice president of government relations for the California Cattlemen’s Association (CCA).

“We fully recognize that the debate will continue as to what these products should be called moving forward,” Oldfield says. “Beef is meat derived from cattle produced by farmers and ranchers. Period.”

Oldfield and CCA considers USDA FSIS to have the best chance at ensuring accurate labeling of emerging cell-cultured or lab-grown protein products.

The issue of labeling has some pitfalls with the current regulations. 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 FDA.

While the debate on what to call alternative-protein products like lab-grown meat goes on the Trump administration might have a solution to who regulates the product. The administration has proposed a government reorganization plan that would move federal food safety functions into a single agency housed within the USDA.

For more on the topic of lab-grown meat listen to this week's AgriTalk interview with NCBA president Kevin Kester:

The whole comment period video from the joint USDA and FDA meeting can be watched below:

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

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