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"A major sector of the American meat industry is finally taking aim at cell-cultured meat, sparking what promises to be a spirited debate over the future of high-tech meat and how people will buy it. The US Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) has filed a 15-page petition with the US Department of Agriculture, asking it to differentiate conventional meat from the cell cultured—known in the industry as “clean meat”—by creating a formal definition. As laid out in the petition, the cattlemen say they envision a definition for “beef” that reads something like this: [The government] should require that any product labeled as “beef” come from cattle that have been born, raised, and harvested in the traditional manner, rather than coming from alternative sources such as a synthetic product from plant, insects, or other non-animal components and any product grown in labs from animal cells. Further, the association asked the department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to narrow the definition of “meat” to the flesh of animals that have been harvested in the traditional way. Earlier this month, another large and powerful industry group, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, listed “fake meat” as one of its five main priorities for 2018 and vowed to “protect our industry and consumers from fake meat and misleading labels.” In asking “meat” to be defined, the nation’s ranchers are signaling they’re ready to force a fight that has, until now, only been whispered about within the broader industry. It marks an important moment, one that promises to pit Silicon Valley foodie futurism against longtime food-industry players. The Good Food Institute, a nonprofit organization that supports and lobbies on behalf of meat- alternative companies, questions whether the cattlemen filed their petition with the correct federal agency. It remains unclear which government office will regulate clean meat, but the US Food and Drug Administration—not the Department of Agriculture—is the clear regulator of plant-based food labeling. The institute says government food definitions should not be used to police competition. “It seems like they’re trying to meddle in the free market,” Jessica Almy, policy director at the institute...In some ways, the debate over labeling and definitions is a compliment to the meat-alternative market because it means they have become imposing enough to get onto the radars of once-unassailable industries. Still, it would be wrong to try and police competitors by asking the government to create restrictive food definitions, Almy says: “If they really think their products are superior, then it should sell on its merits.” The Good Food Institute says it plans to file a formal response to the cattlemen’s petition soon."

Posted February 13th, 2018