Meat, Beef or "Fake Meat"

Plant-Based, Cell-Cultured Challenges to Meat Market Share Continue to Grow

Victoria G Myers
By  Victoria G. Myers , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
Whether plant-based, like the new "Beyond Beef" product, or lab-grown, "fake meats" are poised to do to beef what almonds and soy have done to dairy. (Photo courtesy of Beyond Beef)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (DTN) -- Forget the crumbles and the pre-made patties. Beyond Meat just introduced a 1-pound package of something that looks a lot like a pound of ground beef. The label boldly proclaims it to be "Beyond Beef" and features a cow/plant icon on the packaging.

Beyond Beef is a blend of pea, mung bean and rice proteins. It uses beets to create a red color, and coconut oil and potato starch to add the right "mouth feel." The company says the product will hit retail shelves in the coming weeks.

Beyond Meat's use of the word "beef" in its labeling is not new. In fact, court battles are continuing in Missouri and other states over the issue of labeling plant-based and cell-cultured protein as "meat" or "beef." The beef industry is also pushing back -- especially with regard to labeling.

Anticipating that the next step in the alternative-proteins sector will be large-scale commercial production of lab-grown "meat" products, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) has been taking steps to address regulatory efforts in that realm. NCBA launched a "Fake Meat Facts" campaign last month.

LAB-GROWN MEAT REGULATION FORMALIZED

On Thursday, USDA and the Food and Drug Administration outlined how the two agencies will move forward regulating cell-cultured meats.

The FDA will oversee cell collection, cell banks and cell growth and differentiation. Oversight will transition to the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) during cell harvest. FSIS will oversee production and labeling of human food products derived from these cells of livestock and poultry.

NCBA senior director of government affairs, Danielle Beck, stressed, "It is critical that manufacturers make samples of their cell-cultured products available for independent, objective analysis. Until then, stakeholders will be forced to base their assessments on the unverified claims of manufacturing companies and fake meat activists."

Questions the NCBA has raised revolve primarily around pre-market safety evaluations of the cellular products. Will antibiotics be used in the production process? How will companies transition to commercial-scale production while maintaining safety? Most importantly, will the finished products ultimately be safe for human consumption?

Kenny Graner, president of the United States Cattlemen's Association (USCA), said his group was encouraged by USDA and FDA formalizing their regulatory framework. But USCA continues to challenge allowing the term "meat" or specifically "beef" for any lab-based products. USCA also doesn't think USDA meat inspection stamps should go on any cell-based products.

"Neither the federal or state meat inspection stamps should appear on the cell-cultured protein products, retail packaging or wholesale containers," Graner said. "We look forward to continued dialogue with USDA, FDA, livestock stakeholders, and cell-cultured foods manufacturers to implement a regulatory framework that ensures consumer safety and avoids intentional consumer confusion."

While livestock groups watch cell-based proteins with a skeptical eye, the North American Meat Institute praised the new regulatory framework because several of NAMI's member companies have invested heavily in the new technologies.

"The framework announced today will ensure cell-based meat and poultry products are wholesome, safe for consumption, and properly labeled," said Meat Institute President and CEO Julie Anna Potts. "We support a fair and competitive marketplace that lets consumers decide what food products make sense for them and their families, and this agreement will help achieve these goals by establishing the level playing field necessary to ensure consumer confidence."

MARKET CHALLENGES WILL INCREASE

The marketing side of cell-cultured proteins was addressed in the recent outlook presentation by longtime CattleFax CEO Randy Blach. He praised the beef industry for responding to consumers' demands for quality, but noted there are new challenges ahead that need to be taken seriously. One of those challenges is fake meat.

"The fake meat situation is on everybody's mind. I get calls every week on it. I have been for two years. And it's continued to elevate," said Blach. "We're not going to stop it. It's going to continue to come. It's going to make inroads.

"The [cattle] industry is doing a great job of pushing back. Can we call it 'meat,' can we call it 'beef'? Obviously, we aren't in favor of that. But as this protein comes in, it's going to take market share in a number of areas. Don't kid yourself. It's getting cheaper and cheaper. Production costs will continue to move lower over time. I think we need to be aware of it, and we need to do what we can as an industry to keep it in bounds."

Missouri was the first state last year to pass a law defining meat as products derived from harvested livestock or poultry. Other protein products must include a prominent statement on the package that the product is "made from plants," "grown in a lab," or a comparable disclosure.

The governors of North Dakota and South Dakota signed into law their own meat labeling laws last week. Similar bills are pending in Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Montana, Tennessee, Virginia and Wyoming.

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Editor's Note: DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton contributed to this report.

Victoria G. Myers can be reached at Vicki.Myers@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter @myersPF

(AG/ES)

Victoria Myers