Stockmen Association challenge alternative meat

It is not on the market yet but it is already an attention getter. The first round in the fight over alternative meat is underway.

“There’s new technology and products scheduled for the marketplace in the next year or two,” said Julie Ellingson, North Dakota Stockmen’s Association. “It’s lab grown meat. That’s the new animal, if you will. This issue is a high priority for the Stockmen’s Association.”

Lab grown meat, derived from animal cells, has been dubbed “fake meat” by some. Manufacturers refer to the product as “meat alternatives.” The U.S. cattle industry has already taken issue with the marketing of proteins made from soy and other plant-based substances.

“They have already used claims that we consider not scientifically valid,” said Ellingson. “We want them to let consumers know what they are purchasing.”

That alternative meat is destined to be a choice for consumers at supermarkets and elsewhere in the future is not the issue, rather it is how it is marketed. The dairy industry faced a similar situation when products such as soy milk and almond milk appeared on the market. Today those and similar products take up 10 percent of the milk market.

“We’re working with Congress and U.S. Department of Agriculture officials to put pressure on the Food and Drug Administration to do their work,” said Ellingson. “Plant-based proteins already fall under the jurisdiction for the FDA. There has to be some level of oversight. The agency has been lax.”

Stockmen contend that any “fake meat” products that appear on consumer shelves should be appropriately labeled and not be allowed to disparage conventional beef and protein. However, counter manufacturers, if alternative meat is made from animal cells then it can be called meat. The issue is likely to heat up in the near future.

“We want transparency in labeling. Beef has a great story to tell,” said Ellingson. “We win the hearts and stomachs of consumers every single day.”

Nancy Joe Bateman, executive director of the North Dakota Beef Commission, is well aware of advancements being made by alternative meat manufacturers but says her group has not yet taken an official position on the issue.

“It is such a policy-kind of debate in terms of what’s happening,” said Bateman. “We look at promoting beef and are not looking to get involved right now.”

Nationally, other cattle and beef organizations have expressed similar thoughts, knowing that a growing segment of consumers – “flexitarians” – are likely to accept plant-based or laboratory produced alternative meat.