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Commentary: What is Meat?

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When you walk into your local grocery store and head to the meat department, you expect to see lots of animal based protein. More and more often, there are items labeled as meat that do not come from animals.  There are products that are totally made from plants; and soon there may be products that are not made from any living organism, but rather combined chemicals produced in a test tube. Yet, they may all be called meat.  Livestock groups are attempting to get in front of this issue and are asking regulators to define what is meat.

 

The United States Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) submitted a petition for rulemaking to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) requesting the agency to establish accurate beef labeling requirements to better inform consumers on the difference between beef products derived from cattle and those created in a laboratory. While meat from labs may sound like science fiction, major food companies are investing millions of dollars in this technology. On January 29, Tyson Foods joined in the exploratory meat growing trend, investing in food tech startup Memphis Meats, a leader in cultured meat produced directly from animal cells. Cargill is also on Memphis Meats list of investment partners. This isn’t Tyson’s first investment in a meatless startup. Last December, Tyson invested in Beyond Meat, a company that produces plant-based meat alternatives.

 

Anti-livestock groups have long praised and supported the development of lab meat. They know, if they can cause confusion in the minds of consumers, they can impact demand and cause financial harm to the livestock industry.    A report from CoBank’s Knowledge Exchange Division suggests these cultured meats will be among the top food trends to watch. Marketing plans for what is being called “clean meat” push all of the current hot buttons with young consumers. “Our vision is for the world to eat what it loves, in a way that addresses today’s challenges for the environment, animal welfare and public health,” said  CEO of Memphis Meats, Uma Valeti, M.D.

 

I commend the beef folks for getting out in front of this issue. The dairy folks began their battle for a milk definition long after the shelves were filled with all kinds of plant-based, milk products.  This kind of battle for a place in the consumers consciousness is vital to sustained demand and brand identity. Livestock groups need to come together and put pressure on regulators to define meat in a way that preserves and protects the animal agriculture industry.

By Gary Truitt