By Missy Bonds, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association director
Imitation is defined as a thing intended to simulate or copy something else. It has many synonyms: fake, forgery, reproduction, and impersonation, to name a few.
As consumers, we sometimes seek out these imitation products as a cheaper or more readily available alternative to the original, but most often we would prefer the real deal. After all, the name itself implies that the original is better than the fake version.
Whether you are at the jewelry store or the grocery store, it is important that manufacturers and retailers clearly differentiate between these real and fake products so we can make an informed decision before we head to the cash register.
With the current discussion surrounding plant-based imitation meats and cell-cultured protein, also known as lab-grown meat, transparency is more important than ever.
Since our ranch is next door to the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, we are no strangers to touring chefs, journalists, and others. We are proud to share our methods of raising cattle and producing beef with a curious public.
Having operated with this kind of transparency for decades, my family and our fellow members of Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) are concerned about the push for these fake beef products.
I hear many of the same people who are proponents of unprocessed, organic, and non-GMO foods, pressuring the public to accept these imitation products that are cobbled together in a laboratory.
One of the leading plant-based imitation meats has 21 ingredients, with the main one being soy protein concentrate, which is heavily processed in and of itself. Cell-cultured meats are “grown” in a laboratory using things like fetal bovine serum.
Real beef, though, has only one ingredient, 100% beef, and it is grown using things like grass in sunny pastures.
While plant-based fake meats are already available, the lab-grown product is still being developed, but it is likely not far from being offered to the public.
Fake meat industry representatives have made a lot of claims, but the corporations developing these lab-grown meats are reluctant to provide details on their production methods or product. Those products also have not been analyzed by independent scientists, which means there are still many questions about food safety risks and compositional and nutritional properties.
That’s why it is essential that consumers, cattle producers, and government regulators come together now, before the product comes to market.
We must ensure that fake meats are properly vetted and regulated to protect the health and well-being of consumers and prevent false or deceptive marketing.
Unfortunately, some of this deceptive marketing has already begun, with supporters of fake meat calling it “clean” meat. They acknowledge that “clean” is not a legal term. They use this description because “it is the expression that elicits the most positive response in potential buyers,” according to David Banis, a contributor to Forbes.com in a Dec. 14, 2018, article.
My family and I don’t criticize businesspeople for researching and developing a new product. But, implying that cultured meat is cleaner than the beef we have produced for centuries is fearmongering and makes the regulation of the fake meat industry even more critical.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have agreed to a regulatory framework for lab-grown fake meat that will give both agencies oversight of different aspects of production.
FDA will regulate the process before cell harvest, to include cell collection, cell banks and the like. USDA will have oversight after the cells are harvested and will regulate things like labeling, inspections and ensuring a level playing field in the market.
While they have established the basic framework, there are still many details to be determined. Both agencies will likely be creating guidance documents and rules to define more clearly the food safety evaluation process, nomenclature and labeling terms, grading standards, and more.
Whether you are a consumer or rancher, I urge you to stay engaged. Demand that regulators clearly and carefully label imitation products, so we know what we are buying.
Cell-cultured meat is not the same beef that my family and I produce. These new products must be defined and properly regulated to ensure we can continue to benefit from the safest and most abundant food supply in the world.