Laboratory-grown meat and plant-based meat imitation products, which have been coined “fake meat” by the meat industry, were a topic of discussion during World Meat Congress 2018, held recently in Dallas, Texas and hosted by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) and the International Meat Secretariat (IMS).
While many have expressed concern that the products may replace some sectors of animal agriculture, Guillaume Roué, president of the International Meat Secretariat, told attendees he didn’t think this will occur.
“Some think this will replace meat, but that, I think, is not the future,” he said, adding, “We, in the industry, don’t have to be afraid of that, just to be careful. Imitation is not a reality.”
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue touched on the topic, as well, in regards to regulation and labeling.
“We at USDA are closely examining our policies to ensure decisions are science-based and data-driven. Our policies and procedures must stay up to date with the technology that is available to us.”
He said science-based and data-driven does not necessarily mean high-tech. “Sometimes it just means common sense.”
As an example of needing to have updated policy, he used the recent emergence of lab-grown meat.
“When Congress wrote the meat and poultry inspection laws, products derived from animal cells were unheard of. Today, science has advanced and a product can be developed in a lab environment,” he said. “During production and processing, these products will pose the same types of food safety risks as traditionally produced meat and poultry products. I’m confident that meat and poultry inspection laws will apply to food products grown from the cells of livestock and poultry carcasses.”
He noted that USDA’s food inspection service is responsible for those inspections and the proper labeling of meat and poultry products.
Further, he said a package that appears to be meat needs to be labeled very clearly so people understand what they’re getting—meat or something that appears to be meat.
“That’s not rocket science folks, that’s common sense.”
He continued, “Sometimes I get the distinct impression that some regulations have more to do with the protection of markets or a political philosophy than with protecting the health of the people who get the food. We need to consider all of our rules and regulations no matter where the end consumer lives. The focus of regulations needs to be on safety and the truth in what the consumer is getting, not on protection of markets or a political philosophy.”
Ken Isley, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) administrator, echoed Perdue’s statements during a later session, saying the same food safety and inspections regulations need to apply to the plant-based and lab-grown imitation products and that there needs to be clear labeling so consumers know what they are buying.
“Transparent labeling should be applied in a similar way. So, as this evolves along with other technologies, we believe that the governmental systems that regulate are going to need to evolve in the same way and clearly not exempt non-meat, meat substitutes from the same rigorous safety testing, rigorous inspections and food labeling laws.”