USDA called to deny meat definition petition
Memphis Meats, says in comments to USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, that their cultured products “meet the statutory and regulatory definitions for ‘meat’ and ‘beef’ products, among other terms, and therefore can be labeled as such.”
In February, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association submitted a petition to FSIS calling on the agency to limit the use of beef to “product from cattle born, raised, and harvested in the traditional manner … rather than coming from alternative sources” such as plant-based or lab-grown methods. Memphis Meats says that definition would be too restrictive and would stifle protein sector innovation.
“The only difference between clean/cultured meat products and conventional products is the process by which the animal parts are grown and harvested,” the company says in their comments. “This difference does not mean that the finished product is not ‘meat,’ ‘beef,’ or ‘poultry,’ as demonstrated not only by the relevant statutory and regulatory definitions, but also by the evolution in meat and poultry production and longstanding USDA policy.”
Many in the industry support USCA’s petition, but that support is not unanimous. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association does not believe the petition’s initiatives “will adequately provide meaningful protection for beef nomenclature.” NCBA wants FSIS to assert jurisdiction over cultured product rather than developing “a standard of identity which we know FDA will blatantly ignore.”
The beef sector is seeking to avoid labeling confusion currently being experienced by dairy producers upset over the use of traditional dairy product labels on plant-based alternatives. But Memphis Meats argues their product is simply an extension of other innovations that have already happened in beef production. In its comments, the company points to changes like switching from grass- to grain-fed production as well as the introduction of more humane slaughter methods as evidence of a changing dynamic of what is considered “traditional.”
“USDA has long recognized that changes in production that do not affect the basic nature or essential characteristics of a meat or poultry product, or otherwise adversely affect the nutritional quality or safety of a food, have no impact on a product’s status as a meat or poultry product.” USDA should work with the Food and Drug Administration to “coordinate with one another before either agency makes a product-wide decision” on the labeling requirements of cultured meat products. The comments take no position on whether cultured meat products should fall under USDA or FDA jurisdiction.