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Livestock Groups Seek Narrow Definition Of Meat In Light Of Lab-Grown Competition

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An image of chopped steak

A rare joint meeting between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration about meat grown through stem cell cultivation, or lab-grown meat, is being watched closely by livestock producers in Oklahoma. The two-day affair covers the product’s potential hazards, production regulations and, perhaps most importantly, labelling.

Livestock groups, like the American Angus Association,  don’t want lab-grown meat to be labeled as “meat.”

“When we look at meat, we look at it as being from a living animal that we have the carcass from,” said Oklahoma cattleman John Pfieffer, the association’s vice president. “And so we consider this [lab-grown meat] an alternative protein source.”

Pfieffer likens it to using the word “milk” for milk-alternatives, like soy and almond, which has riled the dairy industry. But lab-meat companies claim their products will be biochemically identical to traditional meat.

USDA regulates meat, poultry, and most “egg products,” but FDA assumed jurisdiction over lab-grown meat because the agency already regulates stem cell cultivation used to grow human tissues. But USDA stepped in after the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association sent a petition tothe agency that asks for more narrow definitions of beef and meat.

The letter reads:

“To eliminate the likelihood of confusion and to better inform consumers, USCA contends that labels indicating that a product is “beef” should be limited to product from cattle that have been born, raised, and harvested in the traditional manner. Similarly, products that are labeled as “meat” should be limited to those that are derived from the tissue or flesh of an animal harvested in the traditional manner.”

There has been some political pressure too. The U.S. House of Representatives released a draft spending bill in May proposing that USDA regulate lab-grown meat and make labeling rules. And Missouri enacted a law stating that the word "meat" cannot be used to sell anything that "is not derived from harvested production livestock or poultry."

Some lab-meat companies have suggested labels like “cell-based meat” and consumer groups seem to support some modified labels.

Consumers Union conducted a survey in July and found that half of those surveyed approved of modified labels that indicate how the meat was produced. And, of those consumers, the most popular label was “lab-grown meat.”

Caroline produced Capitol Insider and did general assignment reporting from 2018 to 2019. She joined KGOU after a stint at Marfa Public Radio, where she covered a wide range of local and regional issues in far west Texas. Previously, she reported on state politics for KTOO Public Media in Alaska and various outlets in Washington State.
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