Food Labeling

The U.S. Cattlemen's Association Has a Beef with Lab-Grown Meat

"Meat is meat, not a science project."

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Ron Washbrook | Dreamstime.com

The U.S. Cattlemen's Association (USCA) wants the government to hobble the coming competition from "clean meat" startups—companies that specialize in creating lab-grown meat products that don't involve animal slaughter. The association has petitioned the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), claiming that the words "beef" and "meat" should not be used to describe lab-grown and alternative meat products, since they are not derived from the flesh of animals.

The USCA insists that such labels confuse or mislead the customer. In a press release—headlined "Meat is Meat, Not a Science Project"—USCA President Kenny Graner said:

Consumers depend upon the USDA Food and Safety Inspection Service to ensure the products they purchase at the grocery store match their label descriptions. We look forward to working with the agency to rectify the misleading labeling of "beef" products that are made with plant or insect protein or grown in a petri dish. U.S. cattle producers take pride in developing the highest quality, and safest beef in the world, and labels must clearly distinguish that difference.

While lab-grown meats are not yet commercially available, clean meat startups have garnered considerable investment in recent years. Lab-grown meat may hit the market as early as 2020, the petition suggests.

Tyson, Bill Gates, and Richard Branson have all invested in Memphis Meats, a company that specializes in the creation of cultured meats. Other startups—Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat, Just Meat—have also attracted attention. Ethan Brown, the founder of Beyond Meat, thinks lab-grown meat is an innovation on par with the automobile or the iPhone.

Why is the USCA, a major player in the traditional beef industry, interested in this semantic distinction? Food policy expert Baylen Linnekin offers some clarity.

"I think the USCA is worried about competition and is trying to make sure lab-grown foods are distinguished from those that come from a living animal," Linnekin tells Reason. "I don't think use of the terms 'meat' or 'beef' is anything the government generally or the USDA in particular should regulate. If the USCA has a problem with its competitors trying to use those words, they should sue. The Supreme Court has already held, in POM Wonderful v. Coca-Cola, that beef producers or, perhaps, an industry group such as the USCA can sue competitors over misleading statements. Hence, this is properly a legal rather than a regulatory matter."

It's too early to say whether consumers would be mislead by using the word "meat" to describe lab-grown beef. Indeed, removing the label could be more confusing.

"When government defines terms like 'meat' or 'beef' or 'natural' or 'organic,' it can stifle innovation and, consequently, harm consumers and innovators," said Linnekin. "Here, there's no reason for lawmakers or regulators to get involved. The courts are perfectly capable of protecting consumers from being misled."

But perhaps that's not the sort of protection the beef producers really want.

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  1. Of all the things the USDA shouldn’t be doing, I think defining agricultural words is low on my list of complaints.

  2. claiming that the words “beef” and “meat” should not be used to describe lab-grown and alternative meat products

    I have no beef with this argument.

    That being said, I’d be interested to know where the material that’s being used to make NuBeef is coming from.

    1. ICE

      1. Ah, so they’re sno-clones. They must have a ton of high level wizards.

  3. Kayla, get on the alt-text train. Don’t be a Britches.

    1. Today is not a good day to jump in on that. Bailey and Walker are killing it.

      1. Walker’s alt-text was so savage I cowered under my desk and went to sleep.

  4. Reason sure loves fraud.

    1. SIV is concerned that after beef and lamb, they’ll start growing chicken meat in a vat.

      1. Meh, he would still fuck it.

  5. If the USCA has a problem with its competitors trying to use those words, they should sue.

    Why bring suit when you can get regulators to nip your problem in the bud for you.


  6. …companies that specialize in creating lab-grown meat products that don’t involve animal slaughter.

    Umm…this seems absurd at face value.

    1. First, as admitted in the article the thing we’re talking about doesn’t exist yet.

      Second, is the flesh being grown not animal? Does it really make a difference to you if a cow is grown naturally or in a lab in terms of being humane?

      Third, is there any remote possibility that lab grown flesh will be cheaper or have any tangible benefit over the ‘natural’ way? I could concede that you could make the argument it’s ‘more humane’ because the grown flesh doesn’t have brain tissue, but that assumes a few things that may or may not be true of an industry that, again, doesn’t actually exist.

      1. Does it really make a difference to you if a cow is grown naturally or in a lab in terms of being humane?

        I recall seeing something where they cloned or 3D printed a side of beef. I suspect that is what these companies would be doing so more humane because they aren’t building an entire animal then killing it. That being said, I still would like to know where the raw materials are coming from.

        1. Exactly. You still need raw components, and in that case you’d be using…components that were almost certainly sourced from an animal.

        2. I recall seeing something where they cloned or 3D printed a side of beef.

          This is a generous interpretation. A side of beef doesn’t grow the way a fetus does and what was printed was closer to a gelatine-texturized pink slime.

          Not that we don’t regularly eat stuff as ‘meat’ that doesn’t in any real way resemble meat (Mrs. Casual is fond of ground turkey), but saying they grew a side of beef is getting beyond just misrepresenting the product.

          1. Ok, I should have typed “side of beef”. Obviously it wasn’t an actual side of beef considering it came out of a 3D printer.

            1. It was a supersized McRib.

              1. Depending on what $park? saw where, not even this. They printed a regular-sized McRib.

                Why would you print meat up to size, then butcher, grind, and press it back into a patty?

                Which is hilarious because you can be miles away from anything anyone would rightly call meat and they’re perpetually —)|*this*|(— close.

                1. If the chemical composition is the same, then I suppose calling it meat is not too far fetched. The taste is the important part though and I just can’t see how you get from cloning vat to tasty burger just yet.

                  1. Indeed, and furthermore they’re using animal cells so it’s ‘meat’ in the very technical sense.

                  2. The taste is the important part though and I just can’t see how you get from cloning vat to tasty burger just yet.

                    I’m of the mind that you/we wouldn’t want to and that they’re going to waste *lots* (more) of time and effort on things people don’t want. I think, for quite some time now, we’ve been conditioned to the notion that fast food isn’t beef/meat (despite claims and proof). I’d rather have a black bean and quinoa burger (or just black beans and quinoa) by name than anything claiming to be, but not actually, beef and we can already produce “claims to be beef” at prices cheaper than black beans and quinoa.

      2. The problem i have heard is that it won’t have the flavor meat off an animal because a lot of what we taste has to with what the animal eats and its ability to exercise. The lab created flesh my have the same structure but it is not “eating” nor is moving like muscle should.

        1. Not to mention the inimitable taste of fear.

          1. The ultimate seasoning.

          2. If a burger is what fear tastes like, than yes I want the taste of fear.

          3. Maybe, of course that’s natural, unless you think antelopes like being run down by lions.

      3. I’d think one of the primary benefits of such a scheme of growing animals would involve the space required or how one delivers nutrients (again, something of a ‘less space’ argument since cows require ‘x’ amount of land per cow or ‘x’ value of grain, which is of course again grown on land requiring ‘x’ space for those crops. Something that will be true in both lab grown and naturally grown I’d think.)

        So I just don’t get how this could be true unless your concept is growing meat without nervous tissue like a brain but…is that what we’re really talking about? How do you keep meat alive without at least some nervous system, and how much nervous system is needed before it becomes inhumane to grow an organism without things like legs or skin?

        1. You’d also still likely need a vascular system, so you’d need a heart or an analog of a heart, so it gets really complex and depends on a ton of unknown variables. Just ‘assuming’ it’s more humane or the like is a pretty convenient assumption that isn’t very likely in my view.

          There’s also the fact it’s going to look like a horror show either way.

          IF you can grow it with only the bare minimum of autonomous nervous system I’d say sure BUT I don’t know, and I doubt, if it’s possible to narrow it down that much between now and 2020. Maybe it is, but if it’s true we’ve come a lot further in the past ten years than I thought.

          Of course, to me it’s primarily a cost issue since I have no problem putting a bullet in living cow and consuming it. The ‘humane’ angle isn’t something I would overly concern myself with in terms of an animal we’re going to eat anyway. Land would need to be really, really expensive before such a scheme became more attractive though, I’d think.

      4. Right, except that it does exist.

        Yes, there is a substantial humane difference between meat obtained by killing an animal and meat grown from a cell culture. One involves killing living being and the other involves sticking a needle in a living being for a few seconds.

        Livestock production takes up 26% of the earth’s surface, and 33% of arable land for feed production. So yes, there is a remote possibility that growing vat meats in a suburban industrial park will be cheaper than that.

        1. herp a derp, I remain correct.

          At the moment, scientists can only make small pieces of meat; larger ones would require artificial circulatory systems to distribute nutrients and oxygen.

          And thus would also require more complicated structures like a nervous system or some other mechanical replacement.

        2. 26% of the earth’s surface, and 33% of arable land for feed production.

          Even if taken as correct from your source, you’ve misquoted it here. Ice-free surface and Earth’s surface are two different numbers (especially if when you consider two of the world’s largest landmasses are more than half covered in permafrost) and arable land and crop or farm land are two different numbers as well. Additionally, the 26% is used for grazing livestock while the 33% is used for industrial or grain-fed livestock.

          I question the accuracy of your source as well because if you know the portion of farmed to arable land on Earth, it’s rather trivial to show that industrial feedstock production uses (or can) about half the amount of land as grazing livestock, which runs counter to their recommendations. A big part of the reason we graze livestock is because it’s effectively subsidized by green energy initiatives. Which is not to say that industrial farming isn’t subsidized but that the fractionally significant numbers are fractionally significant because we want them to be.

  7. I think it’s pretty funny that the UCSA can say with a straight face that raising cattle isn’t a science project.
    It’s even funnier than the ‘meat is murder’ crap from some of the other sides.

    1. Texas A&M probably wouldn’t like the position that raising cattle isn’t a science either when they explicitly teach that science.

      1. Texas A&M, Purdue, Cornell, Wisconsin, Kansas State, University of Illinois, Iowa State, Colorado State, Virginia Tech, etc., etc., etc. probably wouldn’t like the position that raising cattle isn’t a science either when they explicitly teach that science.

        1. True. I use Texas A&M because I live in Texas and know people that graduated from college in ‘Agricultural Science’ that make way, way more money than I do.

  8. Science… Stop working on this stuff and make me an affordable jet pack!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikb8CtEK1qQ

  9. I have no problem with calling it meat as long as “lab grown” precedes the word meat. You won’t be seeing it on my plate.

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