Halting the unlawful sales of fake meat; PLUS: Real MEAT Act

In a bid to protect consumers against deceptive marketing claims and unlawful sales of fake meat products, organizations and elected officials are taking action.

Amanda Radke

October 28, 2019

4 Min Read
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Recently, I’ve seen criticisms within agricultural circles lamenting how we shouldn’t push back against plant-based products because it makes us look worried and scared about the competition.

I would counter that I 100% believe beef will remain king of the dinner table; however, my concern isn’t about disparaging these plant-based products or getting them off the shelves.

Instead, my focus is on transparency in the meat case and providing clarity to consumers as they make their purchasing decisions.

I believe it is confusing to have a vegan product labeled as meat. I think it’s a marketing ploy, and our consumers deserve better. What’s more, these products appear to be getting a green light to enter the marketplace without having to adhere to the strict guidelines imposed on traditional meat products.

To counter these fake meats from impersonating as the real deal and speeding by the current laws in place to protect consumers, on Oct. 21, the Center for Food Safety wrote a letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asking for them to crack down on issues regarding labeling and food safety oversight of these products.

In particular, the Center for Food Safety was concerned about the unlawful sales of uncooked Impossible Burgers in grocery stores.

Related:What’s new with fake meats? Are consumer attitudes about meat changing?

An excerpt from the letter, which you can read in full here, said, “It has come to our attention that certain retailers are selling uncooked Impossible Burgers to consumers in grocery stores. As explained below, these sales are unlawful because the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) received timely objections to the agency’s approval of Impossible Foods’ color additive petition in Docket No. FDA-2018-C-4464. Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA), the filing of these objections automatically stays the effective date of the regulation making it unlawful for retailers to sell uncooked Impossible Burgers directly to consumers until FDA resolves the objections and a valid regulation is in place.”

As reported by Food Safety News, the organization also said, “While the Center for Food Safety avidly supports plant-based eating, the lack of transparency in getting the (genetically engineered) GE Impossible Burger in restaurants and retail stores highlights a troubling deregulatory trend which prioritizes corporate profit over public health and safety.”

Ryan Talbott, Center for Food Safety attorney added, “Without valid FDA approval in place, it is unlawful to sell uncooked Impossible Burgers at retail stores. The law is clear that when FDA receives an objection to a proposed color additive, FDA must hold approval of its use while it reviews the objection, in order to ensure that it is safe for human consumption. FDA should issue a recall telling retailers to remove uncooked Impossible Burgers from their shelves immediately.”

Related:9 headlines reveal the highs and lows for fake meat marketers

Meanwhile, on Oct. 28, a bipartisan legislation called the Real MEAT (Marketing Edible Artificials Truthfully) Act of 2019 was introduced by U.S. Reps. Roger Marshall (R - 1st Dist., Kansas) and Anthony Brindisi (D - 21st Dist., N.Y.)

In a press release, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Jennifer Houston said, “A growing number of fake meat products are clearly trying to mislead consumers about what they’re trying to get them to buy. Consumers need to be protected from deceptive marketing practices, and cattle producers need to be able to compete on a fair, level playing field. We want to thank Congressmen Brindisi and Marshall for leading the way on this very important issue.”

According to NCBA, the Real MEAT Act will:
1. Codify the Definition of Beef for Labeling Purposes

  • Establish a federal definition of beef that applies to food labels;

  • Preserve the Congressional Intent of the Beef Promotion and Research Act;

2. Reinforce Existing Misbranding Provisions to Eliminate Consumer Confusion

  • FDA has misbranding provisions for false or misleading labels;

  • Prevent further consumer confusion with alternative protein products;

  • Clarify the imitation nature of these alternative protein products;

3. Enhance the Federal Government’s Ability to Enforce the Law

  • FDA will have to notify USDA if an imitation meat product is determined to be misbranded;

  • If FDA fails to undertake enforcement within 30 days of notifying USDA, the Secretary of Agriculture is granted authority to seek enforcement action.

“Consumers should be able to rely on the information on food labels they see on the shelves to be truthful and not deceptive,” Rep. Marshall said. “For years now, alternative protein products have confused many consumers with misleading packaging and creative names for products. With this bill, consumers can be sure that the meat products they are buying are indeed real meat.”

“American families have a right to know what’s in their food,” Rep. Brindisi said. “Accurate labeling helps consumers make informed decisions and helps ensure families have access to a safe, abundant, affordable food supply. This bill is about safety and transparency, and will make sure that meat-lovers and vegans alike have the transparency and honest labels that can allow customers to make their own decisions.”

Consumers deserve food safety, transparency and clear marketing when choosing foods at the grocery store. I think this letter to the FDA and this bill are steps in the right direction to ensuring our consumers get exactly that. Share this blog post if you, too, support these efforts.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.

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