Ranchers Ask Government To Define ‘Beef’ To Prepare For Lab-Grown Meat Substitutes

Thomas Phippen | Reporter

A major ranching trade association is asking the government to define what can be marketed as beef to prepare for a future of cell-cultured meat substitutes.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association formally asked the Department of Agriculture to define “beef” as something that comes from cattle that have been born and slaughtered, according to a letter sent early February.

“[The government] should require that any product labeled as ‘beef’ come from cattle that have been born, raised, and harvested in the traditional manner, rather than coming from alternative sources such as a synthetic product from plant, insects, or other non-animal components and any product grown in labs from animal cells,” the letter states.

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Further, the group suggests that the term meat “should be limited to those that are derived from the tissue or flesh of an animal harvested in the traditional manner.”

Researchers have promised for years that cultured cells grown in labs could be a sustainable substitute for animal meats. A number of startups have developed so-called “clean meats,” some, like Memphis Meats, even attracting investment from traditional agriculture companies like Cargill and Tyson’s Foods.

“We continue to invest significantly in our traditional meat business, but also believe in exploring additional opportunities for growth that give consumers more choices,” Justin Whitmore, executive vice president of corporate strategy and chief sustainability officer at Tyson Foods, told The Fence Post.

The hope is that a single cell of animal meats could be cultured and grown into an infinite amount of hamburger or steak or other chicken more efficiently than raising an animal on a farm.

A big selling point of the lab-grown meat product is that it’s sourced from animals and, therefore, a real meat and not merely a laboratory creation.

Cattlemen’s also wants to avoid confusion over plant-based meat substitutes, like the “bleeding burger” created by San Francisco company Impossible Foods that looks, smells and tastes like beef, but is made entirely of vegan ingredients.

“Consumers depend upon the USDA … to ensure that the products they purchase at the grocery store match their label descriptions. We look forward to working with the agency to rectify the misleading labeling of ‘beef’ products that are made with plant or insect protein or grown in a petri dish,” Cattlemen’s president Kenny Graner told The Fence Post.

One of the organization’s five priorities for 2018 is to “protect our industry and consumers from fake meat and misleading labels.”

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