The complaint reads simply enough.
“Meat is meat, not a science project,” the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association contends in its petition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
With that first shot over the bow, let the Great Meat Fight begin.
The ranchers’ petition contends that the “fake meat” products from companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods grown in labs or derived from plants or insects do not meet the definition of meat and shouldn’t be labeled as such.
“We look forward to working with the [USDA] to rectify the misleading labeling of “beef” products that are made with plant or insect protein or grown in a petri dish,” USCA president Kenny Graner said in a statement following the petition. “U.S. cattle producers take pride in developing the highest quality, and safest, beef in the world, and labels must clearly distinguish that difference.”
The attachments to the ranchers’ petition include a lengthy list of dictionary definitions of the words “beef and “meat.” They contend that if a product is labeled “beef,” it needs to come from cattle flesh, meaning products like veggie burgers would have to quit carrying the word on their packaging.
Calling products “clean meat,” “cultured meat” or “lab grown beef” constitutes unfair or deceptive trade practices, they claim.
Beyond Meat is a plant-based protein producer that manufactures its products in factories without using animals, but its “Beyond Burger” is so “meat-like” that it frequently sits in the grocery store meat aisle.
But Ethan Brown, the founder and CEO of Beyond Meat, told CNBC that consumers aren’t confused by the labeling and that they know what they’re looking for when they’re out shopping for meat.
“I think [the petition] actually could help us more than it could hurt us because it starts the national dialogue around what really is meat, and if the origin of meat really matters to the consumer,” Brown told the network.
Brown previously told The Associated Press that a shift from bovine meat to meat substitutes was akin to “moving from the horse-drawn carriage to the automobile, or the landline to the iPhone.”
In 2017, the Food and Drug Administration punted after a similar petition from dairy producers who wanted more clarity on packaging concerning the origins of milk substitutes, even with 25 members of Congress on the dairy producers’ side.