Producers of conventional beef shared their concerns with USDA and the Food and Drug Administration during a two-day hearing on the potential hazards, oversight and labeling of cell-cultured meat and poultry products.
Fair and accurate labeling and marketing of those alternative products was a top concern.
Labels for “lab-grown fake meat” should be held to the same standards as other meat labels, Kevin Kester, president of National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said.
“Given that the goal of these products is to compete directly with real meat, only USDA oversight can adequately ensure this outcome,” he said.
Some proponents of the lab-to-fork industry have begun to engage in misleading marketing efforts to promote lab-based products and disparage real meat, he said.
“These advocates are unapologetic about their desire to enhance consumer acceptance of lab-grown fake meat products. They are not concerned with the accuracy of terms such as ‘clean meat,’ which have no scientific basis,” he said.
USDA requires that all product labels be based on sound science and can be trusted to enforce truthful and transparent labeling of all products under its jurisdiction, he said.
The agency requires all labels be pre-approved before hitting store shelves, giving USDA the opportunity to stop false and deceptive labeling before products enter the marketplace, he said.
“In contrast, the Food and Drug Administration does not require pre-approval of product labels,” he said.
Under FDA oversight, manufacturers are free to label their products as they see fit and some worry about potential consequences later, he said.
“Unfortunately, the FDA has consistently shown it is either unwilling or unable to enforce product labeling standards,” he said.
FDA turned a blind eye to labeling abuses by fake milk manufacturers for nearly three decades, he said.
Beef producers have worked hard to build their brand and differentiate their products, and terms such as “beef” should only be applicable to products derived from livestock raised by farmers and ranchers, he said.
“Manufacturers of lab-grown products should be required to invest in their own market-development efforts and not ride the coattails of beef’s success,” he said.
Since 1986, ranchers have invested nearly $1.1 billion to build the beef brand through the beef checkoff, Danni Beer, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association past president, said.
“It is wrong for any part of our beef checkoff dollars to be used to promote cell-cultured proteins either domestically or internationally,” she said.
In addition, the alternative protein industry should not be allowed to villainize the beef cattle industry, she said.
Safety assurance for alternative products is also a concern. Jennifer Houston, NCBA president-elect said.
In that regard, it is imperative that USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service assert jurisdiction over all cultured products, she said.
“Simply put, the FSIS regulatory system is effective because food-manufacturing facilities are held accountable through daily, continuous inspection,” she said.
The agency’s hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) plans and sanitation standard operating procedures (SSOP) prevent problems before they occur, she said.
While some argue FSIS should not have oversight because cell-cultured products don’t involve slaughter, those assertions are ignorant of the law, FSIS’s ability and how the agency operates. Approximately two-thirds of plants overseen by FSIS involve processing only, she said.
Beef producers are perfectly willing to compete on a fair, level playing field, which is as much about safety-assurance systems as it is about nomenclature, she said.