The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association wants the Food and Drug Administration to act without delay on “improperly labeled imitation products,” noting a difference in approach from the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association’s desire to have the Department of Agriculture address the issue, in part, through enhanced labeling requirements.

On Tuesday, NCBA President Kevin Kester sent a letter to leadership at USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, asking the agency to push for FDA action on imitation products being referred to as beef or meat. The letter also requests USDA leadership in oversight of lab-grown and cell-cultured products.

The letter follows USCA’s petition to FSIS in February, which Kester said NCBA does not support “because we do not believe it will adequately provide meaningful protection for beef nomenclature.”

USCA’s petition requested FSIS “limit the definition of beef to product from cattle born, raised, and harvested in the traditional manner” rather than “coming from alternative sources such as a synthetic product from plant, insects, or other non-animal components and any product grown in labs from animal cells.”

NCBA, on the other hand, doesn’t see the benefit of an enhanced definition.

“Rather than expending time and resources to develop a standard of identity which we know FDA will blatantly ignore,” Kester said, “NCBA believes it would be a more prudent use of time and resources for USDA to engage with FDA to facilitate immediate, appropriate enforcement actions against imitation meat product labels in clear violation of the law.”

Kevin Kester

Kevin Kester, NCBA

NCBA is also calling on FSIS to “assert jurisdiction over lab-grown meat products.” Kester’s letter notes concern that the policy USCA proposes “could result in meat food product entering interstate commerce without the benefit of FSIS oversight.” Abiding by USCA’s suggested interpretation of meat as “limited to the tissue or flesh of animals” harvested traditionally could lead to lab-grown or cell-cultured meat products being exempted from FSIS oversight, NCBA contends.

“NCBA believes that the petitioners have conflated issues related to marketing lab-grown meat derived from cell or tissue culture with other synthetic products derived from plants, insects or other non-animal sources being marketed as meat,” Kester added.

The beef sector has been discussing the right approach to nomenclature issues with alternative protein for some time. Earlier this year, NCBA leaders and lobbyists sought to get out ahead of the issue at their annual convention. Part of that effort stems from lessons learned as the dairy sector wages a plant-based alternative fight of its own, says NCBA’s Danielle Beck.

“If you look at what’s happened with dairy products at FDA, that is a perfect example of why we don’t want these lab-grown meat products to be under FDA jurisdiction,” Beck said on the group’s Beltway Beef podcast. “If (meat alternatives) are allowed to be regulated under FDA, they’ll be allowed to call themselves clean meat, and we’ll have lost the battle.”

Beck added that the products should be labeled “in a way that is legally and scientifically defensible” and does not disparage traditional beef.

NCBA isn’t alone in commenting on the petition on this week: The National Farmers Union on Monday sent a letter to FSIS supporting the USCA petition. In March, the American Farm Bureau Federation submitted a letter that didn’t discuss FDA’s role in the matter, but did note the organization’s opposition to “the use of commonly known and industry recognized ‘meat’ terms in the labeling and advertising of all lab-grown and plant-based alternatives.”

In a statement, Jess Peterson, senior policy advisor for USCA, said the beef sector and agriculture more broadly will need “teamwork and coordination to advance this issue via the proper channels.

“There will be both an FDA and USDA-FSIS component to this issue,” he said. “The U.S. livestock industry will then need to work with Congress to finalize the needed definitions of these various products, which will most likely take place through the Farm Bill.”

Peterson added that USCA “looks forward to working with all livestock and agriculture groups in carrying out this effort.” The deadline to submit comments on the group’s petition expires April 17.

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