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Legislation seeks to ensure fair labels on 'imitation' meat

FAIR Labels Act would require alternative meat products be labeled as “imitation” or “lab-grown.”

Krissa Welshans

January 30, 2024

3 Min Read
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Meat industry groups this week applauded Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., Rep. Mark Alford, R-Mo., Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, Rep. Don Davis, D-N.C., and Rep. Jonathan Jackson, D-Illi., for introducing the bipartisan Fair and Accurate Ingredient Representation on Labels Act of 2024 (FAIR Labels Act), which aims to boost transparency and clarify labeling requirements for plant-based and cell-cultured alternative meat products.

The FAIR Labels Act would require alternative meat products be labeled as “imitation,” to clearly differentiate between real meat and plant-based or alternative meat products. The bill would also provide clarity on lab-grown products, especially in light of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s approval of lab-grown chicken. Lab-grown products are created from animal cells that are artificially replicated in a laboratory environment. Under the FAIR Labels Act, lab-grown products would need to be clearly labeled as “lab-grown” and bear a statement that the product was not produced by traditional farming and ranching methods.

“Consumers deserve to be able to easily understand what products they are putting in their grocery cart,” said Sen. Marshall. “It’s pretty simple: if food is represented as meat or poultry but is either lab-grown or made from a plant protein, it should be prominently displayed on the label. Distinguishing between a ‘black bean burger’ and an actual beef burger shouldn’t be hard. But, as other meat alternatives with misleading names continue to appear on shelves, we need to do more to ensure the transparency of imitation meats versus the real farm-raised meats.”

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) voiced its support, saying the bill “would end deceptive labeling practices on fake meat products and ensure that consumers know exactly what they are buying at the grocery store.”

“Lab-grown products are an emerging technology, and the FAIR Labels Act is an important first step for making sure consumers understand the difference between lab-grown or plant-based products and real beef raised by farmers and ranchers,” said NCBA Director of Animal Health and Food Safety Policy Rebecca Barnett. “NCBA thanks Sen. Marshall, Rep. Alford, Rep. Williams, Rep. Davis, and Rep. Jackson for introducing this critical legislation that ensures American consumers know where their food comes from.”

NCBA President Todd Wilkinson, a South Dakota cattle producer, commented: “America’s farmers and ranchers work hard every day to bring a high-quality, wholesome product to market. We’re not afraid of a little competition, but it is unfair for lab grown or plant-based fake meat products to trade on beef’s good name. This bill is especially important for ensuring that consumers recognize lab-grown products that may be coming to market in the future. Consumers deserve to know how their food is made and to understand that lab-grown products made in a bioreactor are not the same as the high-quality beef raised by farmers and ranchers.”

National Pork Producers Council President Scott Hays said accurate meat labeling at the grocery store benefits all consumers, regardless of dietary preferences.

“Labeling an imitation product as pork undermines the hard work that pork producers, like me, put in every day to deliver a reliable and affordable protein source,” Hays said. “Thanks to Congressmen Alford, Davis, Jackson, and Williams – as well as Senator Marshall – for recognizing this need and taking a forward thinking, bipartisan approach.” 

According to National Chicken Council President Mike Brown, consumer research has revealed that one-in-five Americans have reported accidentally purchasing a plant-based product, believing it to be real chicken. As such, he said NCC is pleased to support legislation “that would clarify labeling requirements for these imitation products.”

About the Author(s)

Krissa Welshans

Livestock Editor

Krissa Welshans grew up on a crop farm and cow-calf operation in Marlette, Michigan. Welshans earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Michigan State University and master’s degree in public policy from New England College. She and her husband Brock run a show cattle operation in Henrietta, Texas, where they reside with their son, Wynn.

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