Existential debate in US food industry: What is meat?

May 13, 2018 by Juliette Michel
An engineer for Just uses a robotic arm at the company's headquarters office in San Francisco on May 4, 2018; the firm recently started to work on a new kind of meat based on animal cells

Can a hamburger or steak be labeled "meat" if it is plant-based?

That question has sparked a debate about US food labels as key US cattle players have sought to crack down on marketing of proteins made from soy and other plant-based substances.

Jessica Almy, policy director of the non-profit Good Food Institute, which promotes meat-alternatives, said labels must state clearly if a product is made from soy or another plant, but they usually make sense in context.

"Regardless of whether it is made of beef, soy, or wheat, a burger tells you it can be cooked on a grill, placed on a bun, and served with mustard and ketchup," she said.

Almy also sees no alternative to labeling as "meat" new products made from animal cells grown in a lab. Such protein offerings are expected to hit US supermarkets and specialty shops within the next few years.

"These are muscles and fat. It would be extremely misleading to call it other than meat," said Almy said.

That stance has enraged some in the traditional meat industry, spurring the US Cattlemen's Association to file a petition to the Agriculture Department to reserving the term "meat" or "beef" to protein derived from slaughtered animals.

"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," the petition said.

The cattle association, which represents ranchers and cattle breeders, said it wants to avoid a similar outcome to the , which has seen alternative products made of soy, almond and other non-dairy sources take 10 percent of the "milk" market.

"We started seeing these products put into the meat shelves in the grocery stores with packaging, label and design misleading the consumers into believing that perhaps it is a healthier version of the traditional meat or perhaps this is real beef," said USCA spokeswoman Lia Biondo.

"We are trying to preempt the issue, to prevent what the dairy industry is going through."

Industry split

For now, alternative meat products represent a tiny portion of US protein sales. But the items are becoming more widely used, and not just by vegetarians.

Startups in alternative food today offer products that do a much-improved job of simulating the taste, texture and smell of traditional meat. Industry players say it is only a matter of time before these options are made with , further complicating the picture.

While the USCA petition has won some support, not all in the food industry have signed on.

The Farm Bureau generally supports the idea behind the petition, but does not want oversight of alternative proteins to shift outside of the Agriculture Department.

"If it is not called meat, what is it then? We want to retain the jurisdiction under the Secretary of Agriculture," said Dale Moore, who is in charge of public affairs for the Farm Bureau.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association, which counts among its members meat distributors and processors, has not signed the petition either.

Chris Kerr, investment manager at New Crop Capital, a venture capital firm investing in alternative food companies, said efforts like the USCA petition illustrate a head-in-the-sand approach to shifting tastes.

"We are looking at a major behavioral shift by a whole segment of the consumer population, driven a lot by the millennials. They are very open to plant-based food, to being flexitarian," he said.

"The industry can fight this, but they are arguably fighting against themselves because ultimately most producers will have some stake in this and it will be a successful outcome," he added.

Explore further: US farm lobby wants strict definition of 'meat'

Related Stories

US farm lobby wants strict definition of 'meat'

April 10, 2018

A major US agriculture lobbying group on Tuesday threw its weight behind an effort to keep the "meat" label off of lab-created products, including ones that employ animal cells.

Gov't expanding E. coli tests in meat

May 31, 2012

(AP) — The government is expanding E. coli testing in some raw meat, a move expected to prevent more people from contracting the bacteria that can cause severe illness or death.

Recommended for you

Revealing the mysteries of early development

May 23, 2018

Zebrafish embryos are transparent and develop outside the mother's body, enabling scientists to get a detailed view of early development. A research team led by Lila Solnica-Krezel, the Alan A. and Edith L. Wolff Distinguished ...

Study bolsters bats' reputation as mosquito devourers

May 23, 2018

It's a common assumption: Bats are important because they feast upon those pervasive warm-weather pests known as mosquitoes. You want to see bats flying above, cleaning up the night sky and ridding you of itchy bites and ...

Why birds don't have teeth

May 23, 2018

Why did birds lose their teeth? Was it so they would be lighter in the air? Or are pointy beaks better for worm-eating than the jagged jaws of dinosaur ancestors?

'Virtual safe space' to help bumblebees

May 22, 2018

The many threats facing bumblebees can be tested using a "virtual safe space" created by scientists at the University of Exeter. Bumble-BEEHAVE provides a computer simulation of how colonies will develop and react to multiple ...

39 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Doug_Nightmare
5 / 5 (3) May 13, 2018
Soylent Green is then 'meat'.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (5) May 13, 2018
Ya know...after they started labelling croprations as 'people' and ketchup as a 'vegetable meal' I sorta threw my hands up and thought "fine: label anything any way you want. It means nothing anymore. Welcome to Orwellian Doublespeak. "

attle that have been born, raised and harvested in the traditional manner

Harvested? Really? We 'harvest' animals?
(And no: as soon as you add "we did traditional X to it" to your definition of ...well..anything: you're wrong. Because I certainly see no reason why lab-grown animal cells should not me labelled "meat")
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (2) May 13, 2018
My grandparents were vegetarians. I did the whole soy meat thing way back in the 60's and 70's... A little ketchup and mustard (actually, I mean a LOT) and you could hardly tell the difference...
I actually became a connisseure of horse radish at that time...
KBK
5 / 5 (1) May 13, 2018
It's a repeat of the DeBeers complaint that manufactured diamonds are not actual diamonds.
Mayday
2 / 5 (1) May 13, 2018
What about the meat of a coconut, or nut meats? And mincemeat pie? It seems an absurd argument. And one more attempt to denigrate the practices of vegetarianism or veganism. Could they not just leave us alone? It is hard for me to understand why so many people find another individual's food choice offensive. Especially when it's so completely benign as veganism is. Why not live and let live?
MR166
5 / 5 (4) May 13, 2018
The real problem is that unless the package spells out IN BIG LETTERS exactly what the product consists of you cannot make an informed decision without reading the list of ingredients. Lot of times I bought a product that said "no sugar added" only to find that it was loaded with artificial sweeteners. It is really not that hard to label a product "Cloned Meat", "Vegetable Derived Meat" or "Animal Grown Meat" so that people can easily make an informed decision. Labeling something just meat will purposely mislead consumers.
mackita
not rated yet May 13, 2018
After all, Chinese iPhone clones aren't supposed to be called an IPhones, despite that they're identical with there original ones (which are even manufactured in the China too).
alexander2468
2.3 / 5 (3) May 13, 2018
Meat grows on four legs unless it's a chicken
Has America joined the European community, next Brussels will deciding they have passed the Euro test and Donald will be singing America's sovereignty away for a Condo!
America already sells liquid cow in Walmart, it's a new directive from Brussels, milk is classed not suitable for vegetarians.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) May 13, 2018
What about the meat of a coconut, or nut meats?

I'd object if these would have just a 'meat' or 'meat product' label on the package. Wouldn't you
antialias_physorg
not rated yet May 13, 2018
double post
Eikka
1 / 5 (2) May 13, 2018
and ketchup as a 'vegetable meal' I sorta threw my hands up and thought "fine: label anything any way you want. It means nothing anymore.


Ketchup is tomato paste - it's pureed vegetable. "Meal" means "portion".

You just got caught up in a made up media moral panic meant to rouse political outrage:
https://en.wikipe...egetable

The ketchup as a vegetable controversy refers to proposed United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) regulations, early in the presidency of Ronald Reagan, that intended to provide more flexibility in meal planning to local school lunch administratorsThe regulations allowed administrators the opportunity to credit items not explicitly listed that met nutritional requirements. While ketchup was not mentioned in the original regulations, pickle relish was used as an example of an item that could count as a vegetable.


A storm in a teacup.
Eikka
1 / 5 (2) May 13, 2018
Political opponents of Reagan started gaming the rules and making up mock meals that would "adhere" to the regulation, like hamburgers loaded up with ketchup and relish, to "show" what poor food was being pushed on the kids - which of course wasn't happening.

If you treat issues like "Ketchup controversy" the same way as you treat the yellow papers ranting about EU and curved bananas, you're much closer to the truth (and that goes the other way as well)

However, when the news filter across the pond to Europe, all the anti-capitalists and other USA critics are quick to forget the benefit of doubt because it's politically expedient, just like how the anti-socialists are quick to point out how stupid the EU is.
MR166
1 / 5 (1) May 13, 2018
Well Socialism will soon die a wicked death in Europe because of the immigration suicide it is fostering. Socialism can work as long as people try their best not to take government handouts. This is changing now as people are coming in who are all too glad to milk the system. As in the US, when people start voting for those promising the biggest handouts the system fails.
mackita
3 / 5 (2) May 13, 2018
This is just a propaganda for pushing of new Ersatz good: Don't listen to Big Cattle — lab-grown meat should still be called "meat" You all are supposed to become fabricants fed by their recycled biomatter...
dogbert
5 / 5 (2) May 13, 2018
Vegetable based meat substitutes should be labeled as vegetable based. What is wrong with identifying a veggie burger as a veggie burger?

Lab grown meat should be labeled as lab grown meat. It is not at all equivalent to natural meat and should be identified as non-natural meat. The moniker of 'clean meat', etc. is a simple desire to deceive.

Simple honesty in packaging is best and anything else is deceptive.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (3) May 13, 2018
What're these guys gonna do when we can grow better filet mignon in a vat than they can on the hoof? It'll be less expensive, too. And no worries about animal cruelty, either- you don't even have to kill anything!

One of my favorite parts of Vacuum Flowers, by Michael Swanwick, is where one of the characters breaks up a meeting over dinner by discussing people eating cows and disgusting some of the characters at the table so much they can't eat and all leave. The tag line was, "...and they used to cook the pizzle and serve it on a bun!"
MR166
5 / 5 (3) May 13, 2018
"What're these guys gonna do when we can grow better filet mignon in a vat than they can on the hoof?"

No problem, just give the people a chance to make an informed decision and the free market will take care of the rest.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (2) May 13, 2018
Can't argue with that, @MR. But if you can't tell whether it was grown in a vat or on the hoof, even if you sequence the genes, I don't see why you can't call it "vat grown beef."
Da Schneib
2.3 / 5 (3) May 13, 2018
My grandparents were vegetarians. I did the whole soy meat thing way back in the 60's and 70's... A little ketchup and mustard (actually, I mean a LOT) and you could hardly tell the difference...
I actually became a connisseure of horse radish at that time...
I had a company cafe that served veggie burgers and one day got a wild hair and decided to try one. It was pretty bad. I haven't been back. I might try it again in ten years or so.
Da Schneib
4.5 / 5 (2) May 13, 2018
Just for the record, most of my protein is from chickens and fish; I'll eat lamb, but I won't eat veal because the lambs get to run free but the calves don't. I eat pork, but avoid shoulder roasts and stick to chops and loin roasts. When I do eat beef I eat filet mignon or rib eye I cooked myself, or prime rib at a restaurant, and occasionally I get some sliced roast beef for French dips. I try to keep beef down to once or twice a month because of my heart. A doctor advised me never to eat fat that's hard at room temperature. I try to stick to that (with pretty good success).
MR166
not rated yet May 13, 2018
"Can't argue with that, @MR. But if you can't tell whether it was grown in a vat or on the hoof, even if you sequence the genes, I don't see why you can't call it "vat grown beef.""

Well it is going to become the new GMO argument.

As far as diets go I could go on for hours about how high glycemic index carbs are the villain and not fats.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (1) May 13, 2018
Actually I think the GMO argument is going to be about vegetables, not meat.
mackita
not rated yet May 13, 2018
For example in New Zealand are extremely specific laws regarding what you are allowed to call for products that contain 'meat', specifically to prevent abuses of substitution and to prevent people from claiming their products is meat even if it may only be 40% meat. Meat is distinct from 'processed meat' or 'manufactured meat', which has a minimum limit of 66% 'meat' in the 'manufactured meat' product. The definition of meat as: the whole or part of the carcass of any of the following animals(: buffalo, camel, cattle, deer, goat, hare, pig, poultry, rabbit or sheep; any other animal permitted for human consumption under a law. This definition seems perfectly reasonable to keep. Fish are not meat, interestingly.
Whydening Gyre
3 / 5 (1) May 13, 2018
Just for the record, most of my protein is from chickens and fish; ...occasionally I get some sliced roast beef for French dips. I try to keep beef down to once or twice a month because of my heart. A doctor advised me never to eat fat that's hard at room temperature. I try to stick to that (with pretty good success).

When it comes to any meat, I avoid fat. Friends and family used to called me " The Surgeon", when we'd go out to eat cuz of the way I dissected fat from a steak...
Oh... and you should try bison instead of beef - lower fat content to start. Ostrich is the same..
And Mack -
The definition of meat as: the whole or part of the carcass of any of the following animals(: buffalo, camel, cattle, deer, goat, hare, pig, poultry, rabbit or sheep; any other animal permitted for human consumption under a law. This definition seems perfectly reasonable to keep. Fish are not meat, interestingly.

Ya forgot horse...

marcush
4 / 5 (1) May 13, 2018
The sooner we can reduce land clearance for cattle grazing the better. Just as long as the energy and inputs to synthetic meat are CO2 neutral.
ddaye
5 / 5 (1) May 13, 2018
It doesn't seem very complicated. "Meat" is a substance, while "burger" is a dish. So a chunk of flavored soy might honestly be called the dish of "burger" but must not be called the substance of "meat." Meat that we eventually produce artificially without being attached to animals, or grown in animals altered genetically as we now do with some food plants, is still the same substance so it should still be called "meat."
thisisminesothere
not rated yet May 13, 2018
WTF is up with the site today?
thisisminesothere
not rated yet May 13, 2018
Triple Post :S
thisisminesothere
3 / 5 (2) May 13, 2018
Soylent Green is then 'meat'.


It was though, wasnt it? People are just meat bags, thus cooked up people is cooked up meat.

Meat grown in a lab is still meat. Add a word before or after if you wish, but its still meat. No matter how loudly the beef ranchers want to yell. I am currently a vegetarian, but I would be down with some lab grown meat. Less pollutants, no cruelty, and potentially tasty? Im down to try that.
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet May 14, 2018
The sooner we can reduce land clearance for cattle grazing the better. Just as long as the energy and inputs to synthetic meat are CO2 neutral.

Yeah, we can just put up a parking lot for all the big yellow (electric) taxis...
(Thanks, Joni)
Meat grown in a lab is still meat. Add a word before or after if you wish, but its still meat. No matter how loudly the beef ranchers want to yell. I am currently a vegetarian, but I would be down with some lab grown meat. Less pollutants, no cruelty, and potentially tasty? Im down to try that.

They're still using real blood from cattle... You sure?
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) May 14, 2018
Just as long as the energy and inputs to synthetic meat are CO2 neutral.

I'd already go for it if it had a slightly lower CO2/methane output than compared to today's cattle farming (which produces a sh**load of greenhouse gasses...quite literally)
Dug
not rated yet May 14, 2018
How about just labeling exactly what the package contains and how it was produced. "Produced from high density, caged, growth hormone induced, force fed and painfully slaughtered (appropriate common animal name - as well as species)." Or, "cultured (appropriate animal name and species) muscle and fat cells." Then an exact detailed nutrition and chemical composition list provided by and independent and audited analytical lab. For those who can read - this should suffice. For those who can't or don't - it didn't matter to start with.
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (1) May 14, 2018
"term "meat" or "beef" to protein derived from slaughtered animals"

Well how far do we want to take this? We've been altering real 'meat' for millennia by selecting for very unanimal-like attributes such as docility and product quantity per unit, until many of these... things resemble their natural forebears very little.

And as Dug pointed out, recently we've been pumping them full of steroids and chemicals to distort them even more. Are they really still animals in the strictest sense?

What is the difference really, between a brainless slab of veal grown in a lab and one kept immobile in a cage, that loses its mind in the process?

If these industries want a scale then perhaps it should not stop with cattle and chickens and sheep.
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet May 14, 2018
Just as long as the energy and inputs to synthetic meat are CO2 neutral.

I'd already go for it if it had a slightly lower CO2/methane output than compared to today's cattle farming (which produces a sh**load of greenhouse gasses...quite literally)

That would be an interesting study.
If these industries want a scale then perhaps it should not stop with cattle and chickens and sheep.

They don't. Ya forgot hogs.
(And maybe a couple of other critters, too...)

mackita
5 / 5 (1) May 15, 2018
Meat grown in a lab is still meat. Add a word before or after if you wish, but its still meat.
Of course that the world before it is important. In my former socialistic country we used to buy "cocoa" from molasses substitutes, "butter" from margarine, "orange" compote from candied carrot and similar inventions. You would get surprised which stuff you could find in Chinese "lunchmeat". I'm just fascinated how easily the sheep are willing to get enslaved and they happily refuse labeling of their substitutes before they even had a chance to met with them.

The problem with artificial lab grown meat isn't that it COULD be identical with normal meat, but the fact it MAY NOT: normal animal would die if his organism would get stuffed with chemistry, which you could find in artificial meat. There is much lower guarantee of final quality.
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (1) May 15, 2018
They don't. Ya forgot hogs.
(And maybe a couple of other critters, too...)
Well sure. And the cats and dogs and horses that are routinely consumed in other countries. Perhaps we should consider all domesticated animals 'pets' and give them all names. You can't rightly eat an animal with a name.

Plus rodents and 'city chickens' (pigeons) and chocolate-covered locusts and grubs and roadkill. Let's cast a wide net.
mackita
not rated yet May 15, 2018
Meat of roadkills should be labeled as a "roadmeat" in butcheries in analogy to "bushmeat".. Just saying...
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet May 15, 2018
They don't. Ya forgot hogs.
(And maybe a couple of other critters, too...)
Well sure. And the cats and dogs and horses that are routinely consumed in other countries. Perhaps we should consider all domesticated animals 'pets' and give them all names. You can't rightly eat an animal with a name.

Plus rodents and 'city chickens' (pigeons) and chocolate-covered locusts and grubs and roadkill. Let's cast a wide net.

Variety is the spice o' life, ain't it?...:-)
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet May 15, 2018
Meat of roadkills should be labeled as a "roadmeat" in butcheries in analogy to "bushmeat".. Just saying...
Yeah and bushmeat, there's an interesting subject. Apemeat is pretty much human meat. Indigenes can be convinced to give up hunting other endangered species but they strongly resist giving up ape.

Overpopulation and tribal living was the norm throughout human existence, and the next tribe over was always considered a little less human than yours. And after a good fight over resources, why leave all that good protein strewn about the battlefield?

Cannibalism is endemic. We are immune to certain prion diseases from eating brains for so long. It's true.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this except that as long as we're regulating everything else, let's regulate ourselves.

Oh yeah... placentas.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.