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Big meat says people have a right to know if meat isn’t meat

If you’ve ever gotten in trouble for coming home with almond milk instead of cow milk, and if you favor labeling food containing GMOs because of your right to know, you are going to love Missouri House Bill 2607. It would set labeling rules to prevent anyone from slipping lab-created material or plant substances into your grocery bag as meat, unless produced by real livestock or poultry.

With a “do pass” recommendation out of the Rules Committee, HB 2607 is waiting for a vote by the full Missouri House. There is more than a month left before the Show Me State’s legislature adjourns for the year.
Missouri will likely lead a parade of other livestock and poultry states with bills to make sure only meat gets labeled as meat.

The measure mirrors federal consumer protection for beef, pork, and poultry that is sought by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), the National Farmers Union (NFU), and the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association.

Meat substitutes have been around for almost 100 years. Sales of “Soy Bean Meat” by Madison Foods near Nashville began in 1922. The product was a combination of soy and wheat gluten. Meat alternatives had opportunities during times of war and rationing, but even the best soy and tofu burgers that came out of those times were derided as “hockey pucks.”

The reason farm and ranch organizations want to draw the line now between what they refer to as real and fake meat is that big money bets are being put down on the alternatives. Billionaires Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and even the multinational Tyson Foods are among investors in so called lab-meat.

“It is critical that the federal government step up to the plate and enforce fair and accurate labeling for fake meat,” said NCBA’s Kevin Kester. “As long as we have a level playing field, our product will continue to be a leading protein choice for families in the United States and around the world.”

One issue beyond labeling is that USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) regulates traditional meat and the Food and Drug Administration regulates products containing only plants and lab-grown ingredients. NCBA said it expects the two agencies to work together and warned it will “take appropriate, immediate enforcement action against improperly labeled imitation products.”

The ranch organization also want FSIS to “assert jurisdiction over foods consisting of, isolated from or produced from cell culture or tissue culture derived from livestock and poultry animals or their parts.” The NCBA statement adds: “Lab-grown meat must comply with the same stringent food safety inspection standards as all other meat products.”

Roger Johnson, president of NFU, is concerned with alternative protein sources being labeled and marketed as “meat.” He said products grown in laboratories should not be permitted to be marketed as “meat,” a label that should continue to apply only to animals born, raised and harvested in the traditional manner.

By one estimate, meat and dairy substitutes have already cut out $25 billion a year from their traditional counterparts. And while lab-grown options are still in the future, meat substitutes now on the market are much tastier than the products that preceded them.

One top food safety expert in Congress, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-CT, has decided she needs to know more. DeLauro has asked the Government Accountability Office to study how cell-cultured food products should be regulated and she’s asked the GAO to look into how other countries are doing it.

One thing for certain. Plant-based substitutes, lab-meat and traditional meat products are all susceptible to contamination by deadly pathogens.

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