Lawmakers want to restrict use of word 'meat'

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Legislation in at least 13 states would define "meat" to exclude plant and cell culture products.

In January and February, legislators in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming introduced bills that would define meat as products of slaughtered animals. Last year, Missouri lawmakers passed legislation that prohibits representing a product as meat if it didn't come from an animal.

Meatball on a plate
This meatball is from Memphis Meats, one of the companies growing animal tissue from cell culture. (Courtesy of Memphis Meats)

Turtle Island Foods, which owns the Tofurky Company, and The Good Food Institute, which advocates for companies that make plant-based and culture-based meat products, challenged the Missouri law with support from the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri and the Animal Legal Defense Fund. A note filed Jan. 30 in the court docket indicates the parties agreed to settle the suit, but no more information was available at press time.

Among the bills introduced this year, the Nebraska bill introduced by state Sen. Carol Blood, for example, would exclude products from insects, plants, and cell cultures. She also introduced but withdrew that month another bill that would have criminalized selling those other products as meat. A North Dakota bill would have similar exclusions and would prohibit packaging that could mislead a person into thinking a product contains meat.

A bill in the Washington State Legislature, the Natural Meat Protection Act, would prohibit any sales of cell culture meat products, as well as prohibit use of state or public university funds to develop them. A Montana bill would define not only "meat" but also "hamburger" and "ground beef" as animal products.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association has listed combating what the organization calls "fake meat" among its five main advocacy priorities in 2018. Companies are developing food products that are grown from animal cells in controlled environments or that imitate meat products.

Memphis Meats, for example, intends to sell culture-grown red meat, poultry, and seafood products, according to company information. Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are producing plant-based alternatives.

Separate legislation introduced in Nebraska by state Sen. Dave Murman would encourage federal agencies to restrict use of the term "milk" to animal products.

In June 2018, the North Carolina General Assembly overrode a veto to pass a state farm bill that included instructions that state regulators need to protect the dairy industry by developing a plan to prohibit sale of plant-based products as milk.

The Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service are considering how to regulate meat grown from cell cultures, including how to inspect the foods and ensure they are safe for consumption. Officials from the agencies hosted a conference on the topics in October 2018 in Washington, D.C.

"Full tissue formation in culture is an active medical research area, as well as a strong focus of commercial interest for food applications," FDA officials said in a summary about the conference. "Many companies, both domestic and foreign, are actively developing products using this technology.

"Some of these products are being designed to have the same or similar compositional, nutritional, and organoleptic characteristics as traditional meat and poultry products."

In the meeting's presentations, FSIS and FDA officials noted that their agencies are responsible for ensuring food products have proper labels.