Since our last post, more than 41 comments have been submitted in response to the US Cattlemen’s Association’s petition (USCA Petition) requesting that the USDA FSIS exclude from the statutory definitions of “meat” and “beef” those products that are not “derived from animals born, raised, and harvested in the traditional manner.” Such excluded products would presumably include plant-based products that resemble the appearance and taste of beef products and cell-cultured meat (CCM). While an exhaustive analysis of the submitted comments is beyond the scope of this article, we would like to highlight two comments we found interesting. We also would also like to highlight a separate but related approach taken by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut), to understand how best to regulate these innovative food products.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) submitted comments on April 10 in response to the USCA Petition (NCBA Response). The NCBA Response presents the following:
- The NCBA does not believe the USCA Petition will adequately provide meaningful protection for beef nomenclature
- Use of the term “beef” should only be applicable to products derived from actual livestock raised by farmers and ranchers
- USDA FSIS should assert jurisdiction over lab-grown meat products
The Good Food Institute (GFI), along with six plant-based and cell-cultured meat companies, then submitted a response to the USCA Petition (GFI Response) on April 17. The GFI Response argues that the USCA Response:
- Asks USDA to go beyond its statutory authority by indicating that while USDA is authorized to use its labeling authority to protect consumers, it cannot legally use that authority to prefer some companies over others
- The USCA Petition would violate the First Amendment, which protects the speech of plant-based and clean meat companies; as long as consumers are not misled, the companies have a free-speech right to call their products what they are.
Amongst the various arguments presented by both respondents, our biggest takeaway was how, unlike the USCA Petition, both NCBA and the GFI did not see a need for USDA FSIS to modify the current statutory definitions of “meat” and “beef” and, most importantly, both respondents discussed the potential unintended consequences if such a modification were to occur. For instance, the NCBA Response argues that by modifying the definition of “meat” and “beef” to exclude the aforementioned products, such products would then be removed from USDA FSIS oversight, which the NCBA strongly argues is necessary given the NCBA’s position that CCM products are “derived from parts of a carcass, in this case stem cells,” and thus fall within the statutory definition of a meat product.
Meanwhile, the GFI Response is presenting the argument that if the USDA were to limit the definition of “meat” and “beef” to meat that only comes from cattle “that have been born, raised, and harvested in the traditional manner,” it would put “USDA in the untenable position of policing the methods of meat production for ‘traditionality’.” Also interesting was the GFI Response’s lack of objection of the possibility of USDA FSIS oversight. In fact, the GFI Response seems to recognize such a possibility and even presents an argument of how both, plant-based products that resemble the appearance and taste of beef products and CCM, are “meat” products.
You can access these as well as the other responses to the USCA Petition here.
Lastly, while not a response to the USCA Petition, we wanted to share with you a letter from Ms. DeLauro to Gene Dodaro, Comptroller General of the United States. Ms. DeLauro is requesting the Government Accountability Office to “investigate what regulatory framework, if any, exists for cell-cultured food products and how this framework compares to other international approaches.” Such information is needed for “Congress to address this emerging section in the United States and to ensure it is properly overseen by the relevant executive agencies once these products are commercially available.”