As heavy traffic descends this week upon the nation's No. 1 pork-producing state in the country for the 2020 Iowa caucuses, visitors will be greeted with digital displays reminding them what the true definition of pork is. On Monday, at the Des Moines International Airport, the National Pork Producers Council rolled out two advertisements, calling attention to the mislabeling violations alternative protein products are using to mimic real pork products.
One ad reads "Pork: It comes from a pig, not Silicon Valley" while the other says "Pork: You can't make it from plants unless you feed them to a pig first."
Plant-based products are nothing new, says Dan Kovich, NPPC director of science and technology, but the products have come to NPPC's attention in recent months as the alternative protein products are increasingly trying to mimic the taste, appearance and eating experience of real meat products.
In a recent Meat of the Matter, "Fake Pork for Breakfast?" Kovich writes that "many of us remember the first 'veggie burgers' hitting grocery shelves. Manufacturers of these products wanted to differentiate them from animal protein, and anyone who has tried one knows immediately they are not pork, beef or poultry. What is new is an expanding range of products that are deliberately formulated to look, taste and smell like the real meat products they are imitating.
"While the success of these efforts is very debatable, what is not arguable is that in their labeling and marketing of these products manufacturers are trying to blur the distinction between their products and ours. Packages often go so far as to have pictures of animals on them or use words such as 'beefy' in large type (much larger than any indication that the product is plant-based). Many of the products are trying to occupy the best of both worlds, with their manufacturers making broad claims about sustainability and taking issue with animal agriculture while trying to mimic meat on store shelves."
The same thing is happening with lab grown or cultured products. Kovich says "while we are a long way away, if ever, from seeing a lab-grown pork chop, competition in the ground product categories is likely. There is no broad agreement on a name for this category of products. While many people use 'laboratory produced,' that name will be less appropriate if and when the process is commercialized. The terms 'cultured meat' and 'in-vitro produced meat' are technically accurate but may not clearly differentiate them from traditional products for consumers. Proponents of such product often refer to it as 'clean meat,' which is obviously meant to disparage traditional meat products and is not acceptable, or true."
In addition to the airport campaign, NPPC is working to protect the term "pork" by fighting for a level regulatory playing field. The organization says this means that cultured protein products must be regulated by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. NPPC is supporting Trump administration and congressional efforts to make sure this happens.
"What's impossible is to make pork from plants. This is a brazen attempt to circumvent decades of food labeling law and centuries of precedence," Kovich says. "Any adjective placed in front of the word pork can only refine it, not redefine it. It's not pork. It's not pork sausage. It can't be labeled as such."