Animal ag biz strategists fear they can’t beat “clean meat”
WASHINGTON D.C.––Killing the first edition of the 2018 Farm Bill on May 18, 2018, the U.S. House of Representatives kicked many a highly politicized can down the street for later consideration, including the first legislative attempt to determine what sort of can and labeling will package the reportedly imminent introduction of “clean meat.”
“Clean meat,” as defined by Memphis Meats, among the leaders in developing the technology and backed in part by the Tyson poultry and pig empire, “is meat or poultry that has been grown in a cell culture and therefore produced ex vivo, meaning outside of the animal, in a manner that is safe, scalable, and sustainable without the need to slaughter a particular animal to obtain the product.”
“Dead meat” proposal sure to be cloned
Explained Science reporter Kelly Servick, “A one-sentence proposal in the bill would have put the U.S. Department of Agriculture in charge of regulating products made from the cells of livestock or poultry, and instructed the agency to issue rules about how it will oversee their manufacture and labeling.”
Though that one-sentence proposal is for the moment dead meat, it is almost certain to be cloned in future editions of the 2018 Farm Bill, more formally known as the current USDA appropriations bill.
If not passed in 2018, it can be expected to be resurrected in 2019, 2020, and so forth, as an increasingly urgent priority for animal agribusiness.
Animal ag producers are $339 billion in debt
Currently, the prospect that “clean meat” may soon compete successfully in the consumer marketplace with the meat from actual cattle, pigs, poultry, and other farmed species scares the soy beans out of animal agribusiness producers, not least because animal farmers and feed producers owe $239 billion in real estate debt, plus around $100 billion in debt incurred to buy equipment.
Diversified producers, like Tyson, with a substantial stake in “clean meat,” stand to profit as much––or more––from the alternatives as from conventionally produced animal products and byproducts.
Financial institutions might experience short-term losses from defaults on debt, if “clean meat” producers win sufficient market share to start driving animal farmers, livestock feed producers, and slaughterhouses into bankruptcy. Reaping longterm gains from selling foreclosed land, however, the financial sector would prosper in the long run.
Animal farmers, however, may be left holding the empty feed bag.
Cattlemen raise a beef
Cognizant of the potential economic threat, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association in February 2018 petitioned the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service to “limit the use of the terms ‘beef’ and ‘meat’ to products only derived from naturally/traditionally raised livestock.”
The petition was filed, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association said in a media release, “due to the increasing amount of product development and investment [going] into ‘fake meat’—also known as protein alternatives.
“These plant based and lab-created products are using the terms ‘beef’ and ‘meat’ on their products,” the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association complained.
Nuts & Beefeaters on the same page
The complaint did not mention that Beefeaters Gin labels have included the word “beef” since 1876, though gin is made entirely from distilled grain or malt and flavored with juniper berries.
Neither did the complaint note that “nut meat,” coming entirely from plant sources, has been commonly referenced in recipes at least since 1873.
Oblivious to history, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association also repeated rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court upholding the First Amendment right to freedom of speech against commercial claims of exclusivity in use of common words and phrases.
Instead, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association asked the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service to “require that any product labeled as ‘beef’ come from cattle that have been 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.”
Meat must be “harvested”?
The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association also asked the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service to restrict “the broader definition of ‘meat’ to the tissue or flesh of animals that have been harvested in the traditional manner.”
This is a somewhat self-contradictory phrasing, in that the primary definition of “harvest” as a verb has always referred to gathering vegetation and the primary definition of “harvest” as a noun has always referred to the vegetation so gathered.
Common use of “harvest” to mean hunted or slaughtered animals started only after the rise of the animal rights movement in the 1970s and 1980s caused wildlife agencies and agribusiness to begin trying to sanitize their terminology.
“Clean meat” scares polluting industry
Continued the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association petition, “The requested definition of ‘beef’ and ‘meat’ should be applicable to all products that use or might use the designation “beef” (or “meat” when marketed as a beef product) regardless of the country of origin. In other words, the definitions should not be limited to just U.S. product. Any alternative protein: soy-based, vegetable-based, synthetic protein, cultured cells, etc. should not be allowed to use the terms ‘meat’ or ‘beef’ on their products.”
The term “clean meat” in particular scares agribusiness.
Bawled the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, “Environmental claims against traditionally raised livestock are being used in marketing claims such as ‘clean meat,’” whereas six of the top 15 water pollution point sources in the U.S. are involved in animal agriculture, animal agriculture produces more greenhouse gases than all forms of transportation combined, and disease outbreaks resulting from contaminated meat products make headlines somewhere almost every week.
“Broad federal prohibition”
The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association petition “is not supported by applicable law or longstanding policy,” wrote Memphis Meats cofounders Uma Valeti, Nicholas Genovese, and Eric Schultze in a May 2, 2018 joint response.
“The thrust of Petitioner’s argument,” Valeti, Genovese, and Schultze summarized, “is that ‘beef,’ ‘meat,’ and by reasonable extension ‘poultry’ products, as a matter of law, must always be derived from an animal that has been raised and slaughtered, as ‘traditionally’ performed in meat and poultry production, and that any product developed outside of these confines cannot be labeled in any way as ‘meat,’ ‘beef,’ or ‘poultry’ products, or any other product-specific terms for such products,” such as “hamburger,” “beef patties,” “meatballs,” or “chicken fritters.”
“The net result of Petitioner’s request, if granted,” Valeti, Genovese, and Schultze wrote. “would be a broad federal prohibition on use of the terms ‘beef,’ ‘meat,’ and other species- and product-specific terms in the labeling or other commercial speech for any food product that is produced in a way that differs from ‘traditional’ meat production.
“This prohibition would take effect without any consideration of the alternative nature of production, the characteristics of the finished product, other statements in the product’s labeling, or the potential benefits of the product.”
“Clean/cultured meat is, in fact, muscle”
The Memphis Meats cofounders noted that the USDA has already, long ago, “promulgated regulatory definitions for ‘meat,’ ‘poultry’ and ‘poultry product,’” and “has defined numerous beef products in its Food Standards & Labeling Policy Book, and USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service has defined such terms in its regulations.
“Under the Agricultural Marketing Service regulations,” Valeti, Genovese, and Schultze recited, “’beef’” means “flesh of cattle’,” who are “defined as ‘live domesticated bovine animals regardless of age.’ ‘Beef products’ means edible products produced in whole or in part from beef.”
Contend Valeti, Genovese, and Schultze, “Clean/cultured meat is, in fact, muscle,” with “the same functional, compositional, and nutritional characteristics as conventionally produced meat or poultry. As such,” they wrote, “it meets the relevant product category definitions and should be able to be labeled appropriately as meat, poultry, or other species- or product-specific terms.”
Observed Kelly Servick of Science, “Lab-grown chicken, beef, and duck products are edging toward the U.S. market—despite enduring confusion about how they’ll be regulated. What USDA’s responsibilities are when it comes to lab-grown meat aren’t clear. The agency’s Food Safety & Inspection Service ensures the quality of meat, poultry, and egg products. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration, which reviews the safety of therapies made from human cells and tissues, has jurisdiction over genetically engineered animals such as the fast-growing AquaBounty salmon, which it approved in 2015.”
Said Isha Datar, executive director of the New York City-based “clean meat” and byproducts research institute New Harvest, “The kind of inspection that would take place at a slaughterhouse today is not the type of expertise that would be required in the inspection of a cultured meat facility.”
“We’re in crazy land now”
Connecticut Congressional Representative Rosa DeLauro in March 2018 asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office “to request a review of the regulatory framework for cellular agriculture,” Servick wrote, but the GAO has yet to respond.
“We’re in crazy land now,” biotech regulatory expert Todd Kuiken of North Carolina State University told Servick. “There’s so much coming at us that it’s really hard to keep track of all the new products and changing technologies. Now we’re getting actual products ready to go and no one’s quite sure what to do with them.”
The beef industry, represented by the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, “is not the first to try to stifle plant-based competition,” pointed out Chicago Tribune editorial board member and columnist Steve Chapman.
Dairy trade tried to ban “milk of magnesia”
In 2017, Chapman recalled, “Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin,” which officially calls itself ‘America’s Dairyland,’ introduced a bipartisan bill” to “prevent makers of substitutes from using the term ‘milk.’ Supporters want the Food & Drug Administration to permit that label only for the ‘lacteal secretion’ of a cow.”
How this would affect makers of “milk of magnesia,” first marketed as such in 1872, is as unclear as how the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association petition, if accepted, would affect Beefeater’s Gin and sellers of nut meats.
“That’s why soy & almond milk are in the dairy case”
“The beef and dairy producers have a bigger fear than imitations made from plants,” Chapman continued. “The real long-term threat is milk and meat derived from animals — but grown from cells in a lab. That would allow humans to enjoy traditional foods without the need to feed, confine, kill or clean up after cattle and other livestock.”
Already, Chapman mentioned, “About 8 million Americans are vegetarians, nearly half of whom are also vegans. To anyone who prefers to avoid foods harvested from livestock, it is a convenience to find these humane alternatives next to the original versions. That’s why soy and almond milk are stored in the dairy case, where most of the products come from cows.”
French animal ag seeks future in 1635
In France, no Bill of Rights protects any language not approved by the Académie Française, governing word use since 1635.
Thus beef grower and member of parliament Jean-Baptiste Moreau in April 2018 won passage of a law imposing a fine of $370,000 on anyone who uses in marketing plant products any such terms as “meat,” “sausage,” “bacon,” or “steak,” which have traditionally been used to describe animal products.
“The measure also bans the use of ‘dairy terms’ in relation to plant-based products,” mentioned VegNews writer Anna Starostinetskaya.
Only about 1.5% of the French population are vegans or vegetarians, according to available data, but among adjacent nations the percentage of vegans and vegetarians ranges as high as 7% to 14% in Great Britain, and 10% in Germany and Italy.