- Makers of lab-cultured meat products have agreed to use the term "cell-based meat" rather than "clean meat" to market their products, and they plan to set up an industry trade association to represent their interests, according to Food Navigator. The decision was made between a number of cell-cultured meat companies following the Good Food Institute Conference last week in Berkeley, California, according to an unnamed attendee.
- "Traditional meat companies can be our biggest ally if they want to work with us," the unnamed source told Food Navigator. "We can help them transition from industrial animal agriculture to cell-based meat. Cell-based meat is a better label to bring them on board. We want to make winners instead of losers. Losers will fight you, winners will fight with you."
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration also announced Monday they will hold a joint meeting on Oct. 23-24 to discuss how the budding cell-cultured meat segment should be regulated and how these products should be described on food labels.
Cell-based meat companies seem to have recognized they need to join forces in order to present a united front. For the past two years, plant-based meat and dairy producers — many of whom also attended the Good Food Conference — have had the Plant Based Foods Association representing their interests in Washington, D.C., but the cell-based industry hasn't been represented by a specific group.
Jessica Almy, the Good Food Institute's director of policy, told a Sept. 7 conference panel that "there's a real need" for cell-based companies to have a shared regulatory and lobbying strategy, according to Food Navigator.
"There are ways to ask for more R&D funding for clean meat and other things that can help the industry, [but] we do need to think about how this industry can fight off threats. So [for example] right now, there's a provision in the House agriculture spending bill that would require USDA to create regulations for clean meat, which would directly undermine the work that FDA has been doing," she said.
Regulation of the newly created products has been a thorny subject, with the USDA and the FDA apparently fighting over which agency will have regulatory primacy. The joint meeting to be held in October could ease this tension and give clarity to what degree each agency will have oversight of the segment.
According to USDA's announcement, the Oct. 23 meeting will discuss regulatory oversight and potential hazards that need to be controlled for the safe production of animal cell-cultured food products, while the Oct. 24 event will focus on labeling considerations.
The terminology debate has been sticky for some time since agriculture industry groups and many individual ranchers are opposed to cell-cultured companies calling their products "clean meat" or even just "meat," despite being made from animal cells. These critics have been willing to push state legislation or even petition the USDA to decide the matter — and they may not be too keen on the term "cell-based meat," either.
Illustrating the divide over both terminology and regulation, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) said it was encouraged by the upcoming joint FDA/USDA public meeting, but it called the product under discussion "lab-grown fake meat" in its release text and in the headline. The NCBA also noted its support for USDA's "primary oversight role" over cell-based meat products.
Even though cell-based meat producers have agreed on that term, consumers may be more intrigued by the prospect of trying "clean meat" since it seems to signify a sterile environment, sustainability, higher animal welfare standards and better food safety. "Cell-based meat" sounds a bit like science fiction, which could be a turnoff for mainstream shoppers.
Once the debates over terminology and regulation are settled, though, the cell-based meat industry will still have to grapple with high production costs and getting retail and restaurant offerings down to a price where they can compete with traditionally produced meat. Given the investment dollars flowing in to some of these cell-based startups, those goals may not be as big a challenge as educating consumers about what cell-based products are and why they might want to try them instead of traditionally raised meat.