Meat lobby wants USDA to ban 'clean meat' makers from calling their products meat

Meat lobby wants USDA to ban 'clean meat' makers from calling their products meat
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Some in the meat lobby can’t seem to make up their minds when it comes to the nascent industry of clean meat, or real meat grown from animal cells rather than animal slaughter.

First the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association filed a federal petition with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) seeking to bar clean meat producers from even calling their products “meat.” In reality, this food is just as much “meat” as the cubes in your freezer are “ice.”

Just like ice made by technology is the same as ice frozen by nature in a lake (but safer), clean meat is the same as meat produced in animals’ bodies, but is instead produced through technology (with far fewer resources and more safely).


Yet despite objecting to the application of the term “meat” to clean meats, now part of the meat lobby is seeking to have it both ways.

It doesn’t want the product labeled “meat,” but it wants the USDA — the agency responsible for regulating most meat production — to be the sole agency in charge of regulating the small businesses that comprise the fledgling clean meat industry.

In fact, this past week it succeeded in getting a provision slipped into a draft agriculture spending bill that would task USDA, and only USDA, with regulating these start-ups.

It seems far more logical for a biotech product like clean meat—which is called so primarily because of its food safety benefits — to be at least partially regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so why would cattlemen want USDA in total control?

Well, most likely since USDA is tasked with promoting American agribusinesses and may therefore perhaps take a skeptical view of a product that could do to concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) what kerosene did to the whale oil industry: outcompete it.

While USDA has historically gone to great lengths to support cattlemen, the FDA doesn’t have the same mandate and so may be more open-minded toward clean meat production. In fact, the FDA recently told CNN, "Given information we have at the time, it seems reasonable to think that cultured meat, if manufactured in accordance with appropriate safety standards and all relevant regulations, could be consumed safely."

No wonder the cattlemen have a beef with FDA.

Arguing that it’s not meat though should still be regulated solely by the agency that oversees meat puts them in somewhat of a pickle.

For a lobby that’s opposed nearly every proposed regulation on meat production — from animal welfare to environmental to food safety — the fact that it’s so eager for USDA to regulate clean meat producers is a bit eyebrow-raising.

Fortunately, there are members of the full House Agriculture Committee — which will now consider this bill — who see the folly in the USDA-only regulatory approach. Rep. Rosa DeLauroRosa Luisa DeLauroHealth advocates decry funding transfer over migrant children Overnight Health Care: HHS diverts funds to pay for detaining migrant children | Health officials defend transfers | Lawmakers consider easing drug company costs in opioids deal Congress reaches deal to fund government through Dec. 7, preventing shutdown MORE (D–Conn.), for example, opposes this provision. “Presently, I don’t believe we know enough about the strengths and weaknesses of this type of food production,” she asserts. “We should allow experts to weigh in before taking on this major policy implication.”

One reason the issue of which agency oversees this new field of cellular agriculture is such a meaty one is precisely because of the labeling issue. The cattlemen argue that “meat” should only come from animals who’ve “have been born, raised, and harvested in the traditional manner,” even if the end-product of cell-cultured meat is the same as meat from an animal who was raised and slaughtered.

Yet one wonders just how “traditional” most Americans would find conventional meat production today, with its reliance on genetic selection programs, antibiotics, hormones, intensive confinement operations, and more. In fact, the more one contemplates just untraditional our meat production methods are today, the more attractive growing clean meat in breweries (perhaps called carneries?) becomes.

The truth is that we don’t produce meat today the way we did yesterday, and we won’t produce it tomorrow as we do today. Rather than try to stifle innovation with provisions quietly slipped into spending bills, smart meat producers ought to embrace the cellular agriculture revolution. Indeed, some major meat processors like Tyson and Cargill have now invested in clean meat startups like Memphis Meats, demonstrating that many in the “barnyard lobby” have no interest in burying the clean meat industry before it’s born.

These forward-thinking companies, with much influence in Congress themselves, offer hope that perhaps the federal government will get it right and allow clean meat producers to compete without unwarranted and burdensome regulations. Now that would be an appetizing circumstance.

Paul Shapiro served as a non-profit executive for Compassion Over Killing and The Humane Society of the United States. He is the author of Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World.