A two-day USDA/FDA joint public meeting regarding the use of cell culture technology to develop products derived from livestock and poultry just wrapped up yesterday.
The public meeting brought together interested stakeholders who voiced their thoughts on potential hazards, oversight considerations and required labeling of cell cultured foods.
The event, held Oct. 23 and 24 in Washington, D.C., in the USDA Jefferson Auditorium, attracted an audience of nearly 600. Throughout the meeting, cattle industry groups, concerned consumers and cell cultured protein companies and investors testified on their ideas for best ways to move forward on regulating and labeling these new products.
Kevin Kester, California rancher and 2018 president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), testified during the meeting.
At the podium, Kester said, “Product labels are a defining feature of the shopping experience for consumers. Whether the product is food or another consumer good, or the venue is in person or online, labels are designed to communicate specific product characteristics and attributes. Manufacturers, advertisers, and retailers all understand the value a label can deliver.
“The federal government understands this, too. That’s why our legal system requires fair and accurate product labels. It makes clear that words and claims matter. In this spirit, two critical steps must be taken to ensure the lab-grown, fake meat labels are fair and accurate.
“First, 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.
“Some proponents of lab-grown fake meat have already begun to engage in misleading marketing efforts that promote unfounded claims about their products and disparage real beef. 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.
“USDA can be trusted to enforce truthful, transparent labeling of the products under its jurisdiction. USDA requires that all product labels be based on sound science. It also requires all labels be approved by the agency before hitting store shelves. This pre-approval process gives USDA the opportunity to stop false and deceptive marketing claims before product labels enter the marketplace.
“By contrast, the FDA does not require pre-approval of product labels. Manufacturers are free to label their products as they see fit and worry about potential consequences later. Unfortunately, the FDA has consistently shown it is either unwilling or unable to enforce product labeling standards. That agency turned a blind eye to labeling abuses from fake milk manufacturers for nearly three decades.
“Second, lab-grown fake meat manufacturers must not be permitted to use the term ‘beef’ and any associated nomenclature. NCBA firmly believes that the term ‘beef’ should only be applicable to products derived from livestock raised by farmers and ranchers.
“Producers in the beef industry have worked hard to build our brand and differentiate our products. Consumers have come to expect satisfaction and a high-quality eating experience from real beef. The manufacturers of lab-grown products should be required to invest in their own market development efforts, not ride the coattails of beef’s success.
“As lab-grown fake meat products seek to differentiate themselves to consumers, NCBA encourages USDA to consider developing a federal standard of identity for these products, as well as appropriate labeling descriptors, as that is the best way to promote honesty and fair dealing in the interest of consumers.
“If, after scientific review, it is determined that lab-grown fake meat products meet one of the definitions promulgated under the Federal Meat Inspection Act, there is no legal justification that would warrant FDA’s involvement in inspecting these products, including their labeling or marketing.”
Danni Beer, South Dakota rancher and former United States Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) president, also testified on behalf of U.S. beef producers.
Beer said, “USCA has always been a strong advocate for truth and transparency in labeling. We championed the establishment of a country of origin labeling program for U.S. beef products, which the courts upheld, and we continue to push back against the interests of multinational corporations in favor of consumer and producer rights. It is that core value which brings us here today.”
“Since 1986, ranchers have been building up beef’s brand through a regular investment into a program known as the beef checkoff. Nearly $1.1 billion has been invested into the ‘beef’ brand since 1986.
“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."
"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 every day. In short, beef is beef.”
To view the entire two days of meeting, check out USDA’s live stream on YouTube by clicking here.
I encourage you to watch even a few snippets of each section to give you a better understanding of the views of both cell cultured protein companies and the consumers in attendance.
Additionally, if you would like to submit written comments of your own, the comment period for this topic closes on Nov. 26, 2018. To enter your comments, access the Federal Register Notice on regulations.gov. Add your comment to the public record by clicking here.
If you wish to mail your comments, send to: Docket Clerk, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, 1400 Independence Avenue SW, Mailstop 3758, Room 6065, Washington, D.C. 20250-3700.
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.