Wednesday, July 11, 2018

"Is Lab-Grown Meat Really Meat? A labeling war is brewing"


This is not be the first time that food products meant to imitate or replace more traditional fare have faced questions about their labeling. In 1869, margarine was invented by a French chemist. As the butter replacement spread to the United States, dairy farmers raised the alarm. At the time, butter cost about 25 cents a pound, and margarine was roughly half the cost. “I would make the tax so high that the operation of the law would utterly destroy the manufacture of all counterfeit butter and cheese as I would destroy the manufacture of counterfeit coin or currency,” declared Wisconsin Rep. William Price. David Henderson, a representative from Iowa, compared margarine to the witches’ brew in Macbeth.

They convinced the U.S. government to tax margarine at 2 cents a pound and lobbied against the use of yellow dyes to make the butter replacement look more buttery. By 1900, it was illegal in 30 states to dye margarine yellow, and a handful of states went even further, dictating that margarine had to be dyed an unappetizing pink.


So the question of who is going to dictate the labeling of cultured meat is something of a riddle, because it really depends on whether you see cultured meat as meat. From a production standpoint, cultured meat is more in line with the way that drugs and supplements and additives are made in a lab, and that would make the FDA more qualified to oversee things. But from a final product standpoint, if the lab-grown meat is going to wind up on the shelf next to the traditionally slaughtered stuff, it seems like the USDA should take charge.

This might seem like boring bureaucracy, and it sort of is, but it could make a big difference to the cattle industry’s fight. The two agencies have different track records when it comes to labeling. The FDA has allowed almond milk and soymilk products to keep their names, despite constant lobbying and lawsuits from the dairy industry. And it recently allowed Just’s eggless mayo replacement to use the term mayo on its packaging