Cows in a field

Beef lobby group demands formal definition of ‘meat’ to counteract lab-grown rival foods

Image credit: Dreamstime

The US Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) has filed a petition with the US Department of Agriculture requesting a formal definition of “beef” and “meat”, in order to distinguish between farmed beef and meat substitutes or lab-grown beef.

The UCSA said that a major part of its 2018 agenda would be keeping consumers away from “fake meat and misleading labels”. According to the trade group – for which actor Matthew McConaughey was a spokesperson – there are no labelling requirements currently in force for beef and, more broadly, meat products.

Its petition is intended to “exclude products not derived directly from animals raised and slaughtered from the definition of ‘beef’ and ‘meat’.”

“[The government] should require that any product labelled as ‘beef’ come from cattle that have been born, raised and harvested in the traditional manner, rather than coming from alternative sources such as a synthetic product from plant, insects or other non-animal components and any product grown in labs from animal cells,” it states.

“USCA further requests that the broader definition of ‘meat’ also be limited to the tissue or flesh of animals that have been harvested in the traditional manner.”

The group is targeting products derived from plants - most frequently beans - and fungi, but also mentions insect-based meat substitutes and meat grown from animal cells in a lab (synthetic meat).

Although meat substitutes have been consumed for millennia – with tofu having been made since at least the Han dynasty (approximately 200BC-200AD) – their popularity has expanded recently, with the global meat substitutes market expected to grow 5.8 per cent by 2023.

Synthetic meat, meanwhile, could allow for the continued consumption of animal meat while vastly reducing the carbon footprint associated with rearing and slaughtering animals. A joint University of Oxford and University of Amsterdam study suggested that lab-grown meat could require just 55 per cent of the energy and two per cent of the land necessary to raise farmed meat, while generating just four per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions.

Synthetic meat is still some way from the market, however, with researchers facing the challenges of matching the taste and texture of farmed meat and ramping up production to a scale and cost that could make them a viable alternative to what is currently on offer.

Despite the protests of the USCA against synthetic meat and other alternatives, a number of major players in the meat business are taking the decision to support the development of synthetic meat.

PHW - one of the largest poultry manufacturers in Europe - has thrown financial support behind a synthetic chicken meat start-up based in Israel, called SuperMeat. Meanwhile, food giant Cargill - the largest privately held corporation in the US by revenue - has supported PURIS with the building of a pea protein plant in the US. Tyson Foods - the world’s second larger processor and marketer of beef, pork and poultry - has invested in Memphis Foods, a company which has been using stem cells to grow tissue in the lab.

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