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NCBA staff taste tested ‘fake meat’ as part of labeling strategy

Impossible Foods Veggie Burger
Group working behind the scenes as it seeks labeling for new and future plant-based products.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. (NCBA) continues to work on behalf of the industry as it seeks to better understand the “fake meat” movement and strategize how it can better protect beef products in the marketplace. In fact, three of NCBA's Washington, D.C.-based employees recently taste tested a variety of “fake meat” burgers at a local restaurant.

Danielle Beck, NCBA director of government affairs; Ed Frank, NCBA director of policy communications, and Ethan Lane, executive director of the Public Lands Council and NCBA’s Federal Lands, tried three different plant-based burgers: a black-eyed pea burger and two different types of the Impossible Burger, a product created by Impossible Foods in California's Silicon Valley and made from ingredients such as wheat, coconut oil and potatoes. The Impossible Burger includes an ingredient called heme, which the company describes as “a basic building block of life on Earth, including plants” and “what makes meat smell, sizzle, bleed and taste gloriously meaty.”

In reaction to the experience, Lane said,“I actually enjoyed the black-eyed pea burger more than the Impossible Burger, and I did not enjoy the black-eyed pea burger at all.”

The problem with all of these, he said, is that the products are trying to replicate “an incredibly iconic product that people taste and know and recognize.”

The only way to do that is to cloak it in cheeses and sauces and different things, he explained. “What you get at the end of the day is kind of a soupy, salty, mushy mess and none of that beef flavor that you are actually looking for. I don’t know who the consumer is for this product, because it doesn’t really check any boxes for anyone that I’ve met, and I’m just curious to see where this debate goes.”

He continued, “I wasn’t expecting much today, but I wasn’t expecting this.”

Frank added, “As we’ve said before, to each his own. If it’s a viable product, then go out there and buy it in a free and open marketplace. That’s fine with us.”

As for where the beef industry stands in its work to protect the marketplace, Frank said the industry is much closer to the starting line than to the finish line on the issue.

He explained, “Some of the things we have to figure out as an industry and as a government is: Who has jurisdiction over this, and who is going to regulate this?"

“This is a long-term strategy," Beck said of the industry’s work. "We’re doing this because there are certain products that are coming to the market that are using nomenclature that could be misleading to consumers, but all those products are plant-based. We want to ensure that are strategy addresses not just the products that are currently on the market but future products -- so, perhaps meat that is grown in a petri dish.”

Additionally, she said the goal is to ensure that product labels accurately describe the product and do not disparage beef. “We want to ensure that there is absolutely no misinformation or confusion being sold to consumers when they are at the grocery story looking for healthy, safe and nutritious beef products,” Beck explained.

Another U.S. cattle producer group submitted a petition for rule-making Feb. 9 requesting that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) establish accurate beef labeling requirements, but Frank said a petition is not the way to go right now.

While a petition is one way of doing things, Beck pointed out that just three days prior to when the petition was submitted, FSIS had finally responded to a petition it received in October 2014.

“We’re living in 2018 right now,” Beck said. “It took them four years to issue a final response. A petition’s not going to get things done, so we’re working hard. We’re going to make sure that current products on the market are addressed and their labeling is appropriate, but we’re also going to ensure that labeling standards for new products coming to the market do not disparage beef in any way.”

She said NCBA has been working behind the scenes on the issue because this is really “the quickest way to get things done when we have a Congress and when we have an Administration that’s on our side.”

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