The word beef represents a brand that has been cultivated through generations of innovation, animal welfare, and environmental conservation by farmers and ranchers across the United States. Over the years, high-quality beef has captured consumer demand and built a foundation of consumer trust. As an increased number of protein products are introduced into the marketplace, it is critical to ensure that new products don’t disparage the positive reputation of real beef products through false claims, and perhaps more importantly, those products don’t cause confusion among consumers in an attempt to ride on the coattails of beef’s good name.
One product that has certainly made a splash in mainstream media is cell-cultured protein or, as we prefer to call it, lab-grown protein. While foods produced through the use of this technology are not yet commercially available in the United States, NCBA has been proactively engaged with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure proper labeling of these products.
As the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS) works to develop labeling and regulatory oversight standards for lab-grown protein products, NCBA remains committed to ensuring a fair and level playing field for the sale of beef.
Let me be absolutely clear, cattle producers aren’t afraid of competition, but competition in the marketplace needs to be fair. Alternative protein companies should not be allowed to mislead consumers through deceptive marketing practices. NCBA believes that consumers have the right to expect truthful and accurate food product labels. Therefore, the term “beef” should only be applicable to products derived from livestock raised by farmers and ranchers.
And it’s not just the cattle industry that believes in the importance of accurate labeling, a consumer study conducted by NCBA indicated that 74 percent of consumers agree that there should be a definitive indication on whether they are buying lab-grown products or conventionally produced meat.
The novelty of this technology means there is a demonstrated lack of consumer understanding. NCBA’s research found that only 13 percent of participants were generally aware of lab-grown protein products, and even fewer respondents could accurately define them. As lab-grown proteins look to enter the U.S. market, NCBA believes that USDA oversight will play a critical role in preserving a fair, even playing field for all products to compete. We believe that the agency must take into consideration a myriad of factors and should ultimately develop new standards of identity and labeling parameters that not only appropriately differentiate these products, but ensure they are marketed in a manner that is truthful and not misleading.To that end, in the comments we submitted to USDA’s recent Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, NCBA recommended “lab-grown” as an explicit description for these products. Unlike the terms commonly used, such as “cultured,” “clean,” or “cultivated,” our research substantiates that “lab-grown” is the term best positioned to differentiate these products from real beef as it provides consumers with the clearest understanding of the products they are purchasing.
Our top priority is working with FDA and USDA to ensure that the regulations governing these products are science-based, appropriately prioritize food safety, and promote honesty and fair dealing in the interest of consumers. Farmers and ranchers across the country are proud to sustainably produce wholesome, affordable, and nutritious beef. After all, beef has been, and always will be, what’s for dinner!
Ethan Lane leads NCBA’s Washington office as the Vice President of Government Affairs. He is a fifth generation Arizonan with more than two decades of experience in natural resources, land use issues, and advocacy on behalf of the cattle industry. Prior to his current role, he was the Executive Director for the Public Lands Council.
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