What is Meat? New Bill Aims to Define It


Beth Kaiserman, NOSH

Nov. 6, 2019


Last week Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-NY) and Rep. Roger Marshall (R-KS.) proposed the Real Marketing Edible Artificials Truthfully Act (Real MEAT Act) to Congress, which would establish strict guidelines against labeling alternative proteins as “meat.” Although the meat versus plant-based battle isn’t new, up until now, legal action on the matter has happened only at the state level — this is the first federal bill addressing the subject.


The bill comes about as more and more companies — both big and small — are entering the plant-based meat space, primarily focused on beef alternatives. To prevent what the bill says is “confusion in the marketplace,” the REAL Meat Act states that any alternative beef product not derived from cows must have the word ‘imitation’ in the product name. If approved, the bill would be added to the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act.) Though the bill doesn’t specifically call out plant-based versus cell-based meat, which is derived from meat cells, it would apply to labeling any alternative beef product.


The bill notes that such definitions already exist in the Beef Research and Information Act, part of the 1985 Farm Bill: ‘beef’ is defined as flesh of cattle and ‘beef products’ as those produced in whole or in part from beef, exclusive of milk and products made therefrom. Thus, proponents say, this new federal bill would establish tighter regulations around labeling in order to fight consumer confusion.


“This bill is about safety and transparency, and will make sure that meat-lovers and vegans alike have the transparency and honest labels that can allow customers to make their own decisions,” Rep. Brindisi said in a statement.


Opponents of the bill — including plant-based meat’s biggest players — argue it will likely hinder the growth of the plant-based and cell-based meat markets. They believe that the bill is unconstitutional, violating the First Amendment, and unnecessary because consumers understand plant-based versus animal meat.


In a statement to NOSH, Impossible Foods, which entered retail in September, said consumers are “crystal clear” on what’s in — and not in — its products, which don’t feature the word “meat.” Indeed, consumers are “taking proactive steps” toward plant-based, alternative meat brand Tofurky CEO Jaime Athos told NOSH. U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods have grown 11% this past year, bringing the total market value to $4.5 billion, according to the Good Food Institute (GFI) and the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA.) The market is further heating up with big CPG brands entering a playing field that previously was dominated by Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat.


With such avid consumer interest in plant-based alternatives, passing this bill would unfairly favor the meat industry, Athos said.


“Our government has for far too long propped up the meat industry with unfair support from subsidies, to regulatory preferences, to warping the science around our nutritional guidelines,” Athos told NOSH. “I am ultimately not surprised to see a federal bill because the meat industry has been pretty relentlessly lobbying for these sorts of anti-competitive laws at all levels of government.”


Indeed, similar tensions are already sizzling within state legal cases...


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